Planning, Development and Administration of Senior Housing Complex:

A Brainstorming Session by NIAASC

 

Comprehensive Report of the Above Session

August 24, 2004

 

The  National  Indo-American Association for Senior  Citizens (NIAASC)  held a “Brainstorming”  Session  on  Planning, Development  and  Administration  of  Senior  Housing Complexes, on  August  22,2004, at  the Kerala  center in  Elmont, NY This  NIAASC  initiative  was  prompted  by  its  mission   of serving  seniors  through information, referral and advocacy services  and  to  address  the  increasing concerns  of  seniors  regarding  adequacy  and  affordability  of  decent  housing, in their  twilight  years  yearning to lead rich  and independent lives.

 

The  session, attended by 26 participants including six speakers/panelist,  was  punctuated  with  valuable  information  and  insights  by  a specially-chosen  panel  of experts actively  involved  in  the area  of  Housing  in  general  and  in  Senior  Housing  in  particular.

 

The  speakers/panelists  were:

 

Ms. Aleyamma  Mathew                Director of Programs for the National Coalition for  Asian-Pacific      

                                                            American  Community  Development (National CAPACD).

 

Ms. Michelle  Santantonio            Executive  Director of   the  Long  Island Housing Services Inc..

 

Mr. Doug Aloise                              Housing  Administrator  for Catholic  Charities, Hicksville, NY

 

Mr. Frank Lang                               Director of Planning  and  Development for  Asian-Americans for

                                                            Equality (AAFE) 

 

Mr. Subash Midha                          Chief  Financial Officer, Consumer Information  and  Dispute

                                                            Resolution Inc. (CIDR), formerly Fiscal Director, Senior Housing Portfolio, Catholic                                                                      Charities.

 

Mr. Basant  Kohli                            Executive, Metropolitan Life/ Volunteer for  Ombudservice (AARP).

 

 

Introductory Remarks:

 

In  his  welcoming  remark, Mr. Rajeshwar  Prasad, NIAASC President,  briefly  alluded  to  NIAASC’s  general  mission  of   information dissemination, referral  and  advocacy services  and  how in  that  spirit,  this  brainstorming  session  was  conceived in  response  to the  Indian  Seniors’  community needs  for  housing  articulated  by  the  NIAASC  members

in  various NIAASC meetings. Mr. Prasad also informed that the media coverage of the proposed brainstorming session generated calls from Indian community leaders in Chicago, Houston, New Jersey expressing that the session would be a good starting point on this important subject.

 

Mr. E.M. Stephen , president of the Kerala Center, welcomed all participants on behalf of the Center. He emphasized close working relationship between NIAASC and the Center. He also informed that the Center runs two senior programs, along with many other activities.

 

The panelists  were  introduced  by  Messrs. Ashwin Pandya-Vice-President  NIAASC, M.K.Ramasubramanian-Board Member and  Rajeshwar Prasad-President.

 

The  Panelists  structured  their  discussions  into  three broad  areas—PLANNING, DEVELOPMENT and  ADMINISTRATION  with  each  area  being  covered by  a pair  of  panelists.  The  format  was  not  only  designed  to  tap  into the “expertise”  of the panelists in the  subject  areas  assigned  to  them,  but  also  to  facilitate  a free  exchange of  ideas, views  recognizing  the  overlap  of  the  three components  and  looking  at  them  in  a comprehensive  manner  rather  than  strict  compartmentalization.

 

PLANNING:

 

The  PLANNING session  was  led  by  Ms. Aleyamma Mathew  and  Ms. Michelle  Santantonio.

Ms. Aleyamma Mathew  who  is  Director  of  programs  for  the  National  CAPACD,  outlined  her  organization's  broad  spectrum  of  planning, implementation   and coordination  activities  with  community-based  organizations  across  the  US  Although  not directly  involved  in  Housing activities per  se, she  reiterated  the  vast  resources  available  from  her  organization  by virtue  of  their  wide  reach  across the US  and how  these  could  be  tapped  into  by  local  communities  embarking  upon  community-building activities  with Housing  as  the cornerstone.  The  queries and discussions that  followed  her  presentation  highlighted  the  opportunities for  follow-up.

Ms.  Michelle Santantonio then  traced  the  historical  development  and advancement  of  civil  rights  issues  as  they  pertain to immigrant, minority  communities  with    housing  discrimination  as  one  of the  thorny  issues  and  how  her  organization namely  the Long  Island  Housing  Services  successfully, valiantly  and  effectively  fought  to advance  the  cause  over the  last thirty  years, in alliance  with Human  Rights  Commissions.  She  unequivocally  outlined  the  do’s  and  don’ts  of Senior  Citizens  Housing  development  emphasizing  the  need  to  eschew  any  overt/covert  “exclusiveness” perceptions, however  inadvertent    and benign  the attempts  may  be.  She  also  pointed  out  the  rules  and  regulations  have to  be  observed  strictly  irrespective  of whether  the projects  are  Govt-funded or private funded.  Given  the   vastness and diversity of  the  communities dispersed  in the  US    the  Indo-American  Communities  involved  in Housing  development activities  must  be  cautioned to  be  fully  aware  and adhere  to  local  laws  on  fair  housing.

 

DEVELOPMENT:

 

The  session  on  Development  was  led  by  Mr. Doug  Aloise  who  in  his  capacity  as  Housing   Administrator   for  the  Catholic  Charities  manages  in  excess  of  1250    housing units  in  Nassau/Suffolk  Counties.  Doug  stressed the  importance   of  proper  scouting, selection  of  sites  for  housing  developments, being  thoroughly  aware  of  zoning  requirements  laid  out  by the local communities  and  the  need  to  ensure  harmonious  relations with  the Planning Board  officials  and  other  lawmakers  in   the community  and  be attentive to  the sensitivities  of   the  local  populace.  He    referred  to  the   rent  “thresholds (namely  what  % of  income  should  rent account  for  in these units )   and  how  units’  rental  requirements, exceeding  this threshold  can be  met  by  subsidies   etc.  subject  to  the  prevailing  laws  applicable  in the  communities  concerned.

Mr. Frank  Lang , Director of Planning and Development at AAFE, and a licensed architect, then  followed  on  the  Development  segment   and  outlined  his  experiences  in this   area  by virtue  of  being  involved  in the Asian-Americans  for Equality. Frank  stressed  the  importance  of  clearly-defined  objectives, mission statements  in  undertaking  Housing projects, the  need  to  tend  to the administrative  burdens  of  scrutinizing  applications (with  limited staffing resources)  winnowing  them  down to   the  available  housing  units—often a fraction of the  applications  received  given the  inherent difficulties  of  laying  down  criteria  that are deemed  fair  and equitable  in  the  allocation process.   Frank also  provided some  insights  into the  Capital Outlays involved which are a function  of the  community neighborhoods  and the sizes  of  the  units proposed.  While  rental-ceiling  formulas (e.g.  not  exceeding  30% of  income)  can be  used as a  norm    in assessing  the  “economics”  of  the  housing projects,  these  can  be  suitably  modified  using  historic  rents (wherever they  exceeded  the  “thresholds”) paid   by   the prospective  applicants. Needless to  say  these  guidelines  have  to  be  tailored  to  the  local  community  conditions  and needs.

 

ADMINISTRATION:

 

This  session  on  Administration  was  led  by  Mr. Subash  Midha, currently  CFO for  CIDR (Consumer  Information  and  Dispute  Resolution  Inc.)  emphasized  the  need  to  be  clear  about  the  path(s)  we  plan  to take—whether  we  choose  the  HUD-Subsidized  route  of  Tax shelters  or  private-initiatives  in  the setting  up of the Senior Housing Projects. The  inevitable  delays involved  in  Govt-funded  schemes  need  to  be carefully evaluated  before embarking  upon the  projects.  Any covenants  or  restrictions  that accompany such  funding  schemes need to  be adhered to  in the  light  of the community’s needs/objectives. Mr.  Midha  cautioned  that  the  administrative  aspects   such  as   --  the  budgeting, cost containment, staffing  levels  etc.  are  far  more  demanding than  the  setting  up  of  the housing  units.  Mr. Basant  Kohli , an Executive with Metropolitan Life and AARP Ombudservice volunteer,  the other panelist  in the  Administrative  segment  outlined  the  activities  of  Ombudservice (an  adjunct  of AARP)—one  of  which  involves  Assisted  Living  entailing  periodic visits and  inspections  of the  facilities.

 

INTERACTIVE DISCUSSION:

 

The  after-lunch  session  was  punctuated  by  lively, interactive discussions  on the  presentations,  moderated  by  Dr. Ashok Satkalmi.  The  consensus amongst  the  panelists  was  that the  whole process  of  the  senior  Housing Developments  ,from  conception to  consummation  must  be  thought through  with  clearly  laid  out  objectives  regarding   location, size of  units, mode  of  financing, adherence  to  local  laws (zoning, fair  housing  statutes  etc).   The panel  also  stressed  that  meeting  the “ unique   needs”  of the Indo-American Senior  Communities  has  to  conform to the  need  to    be  inclusive  and  this  delicate  balance has  to  be carefully preserved  in  the true  spirit  of the American Immigration  experience  and  history.

 

FOLLOW-UP:

 

The  discussions  hovered  on  the  next  steps  to  be  taken  by  NIAASC  building  on  the  ideas/concepts  discussed at  the  session.  The group also discussed  possibilities of developing retirement communities by interested individuals, who will be acting as owners. It  was  decided  that  a Working Committee be  set  up --  to   be  coordinated  by  Mr. M.K. Ramasubramanian,  with the  help  of  Board  members and  some  of  the  panelists. This  Committee  will  focus  on  the salient  aspects  of  the senior  Housing  Issue, delve  deep into  the specifics  wherever  deemed appropriate, meet  with  some  of  the panelists and  other  agencies deemed  knowledgeable  on the  subject  and develop  a report  which  NIAASC  could peruse  and decide on  the suitability  for  dissemination  to  the  Community. 

 

CONCLUSION:

 

The panelists were equally impressed with the group of this brainstorming session. Many of these participants had professional background in various fields such as medicine, insurance, health and human services, social work, administration and management, coordination of senior programs, accounting. Panelists confided that the work ahead is challenging but not impossible. The success of the project requires collaboration and partnership, and they reiterated that NIAASC in its future deliberations on the issue of senior housing can depend on the agencies represented by the panelists.

 

In  his  summary  remarks,  Rajeshwar  Prasad  reiterated  the role  of  NIAASC  on  key  issues  affecting  Seniors  like  Housing,  as  a information source  for the  communities  embarking  on  projects. He emphasized that  implementation  of  housing schemes would  be undertaken by  the communities  involved,   with  NIAASC  acting  more  as a  facilitator. Mr. Prasad stated that NIAASC has played similar role as facilitator in various senior citizen programs, sponsored by different community organizations.

 

Ms.  Tara Kotecha—the  Secretary  NIAASC proposed a  vote  of  thanks    to  the  panelists  and  the  participants  in the  sessions. She underlined the cooperation extended by the Kerala Center under Mr. Stephen’s leadership.

 

The  unanimous  consensus  amongst  the  participants   was  that  the brain  storming  session  was  an  unequivocal  success  and  the participants left with a great sense of accomplishment. They recognized the difficult task ahead and encouraged the NIAASC to play a leading role on this important issue.