What’s changed, what’s the same as Housing Authority nears a significant milestone
PRINCETON — Fifty years ago, man went to the moon, hippies went to Woodstock and the Bureau County Housing Authority broke ground on a series of then-state-of-the-art high-rise housing for its senior population.
These days, the housing in Princeton and Spring Valley still exists, but the demographics of the residents inhabiting the buildings have shifted considerably.
“At the time, high-rises were the trend for elder housing. The vision was for decent, safe, affordable housing for independent living,” said Laurel Hand, executive director of the Bureau County Housing Authority.
The high-rise buildings containing studio and one-room apartments were a popular option at the time, designed to house local grandparents when they wanted to give up home maintenance but retain independence. The Princeton building on South Church Street has 103 apartments, the Spring Valley Towers on Erie Street has 127 apartments — they added a second building in 1984, and an additional 22 family units designed for more than two residents.
That all changed in 2011 when the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development changed the rules. Today, the buildings are considered general occupancy, which means they’re no longer limited to those 62 years old and up.
“In order to keep ‘elderly’ designation, we had to prove we needed it, and we didn’t have the (senior) population to justify it,” Hand said about the shift to general occupancy. “During those times, there were other opportunities for senior living.”
Now, residency is income-based, so anyone at least 18 years old with an income under $38,750 per year qualifies to live in the buildings.
Because the facilities are federally funded (not county owned or supported), residents must do an annual certification to remain in residence.
Hand said residents will pay 30 percent of their adjusted income up to a maximum charge, so those renting a studio apartment can do so for no more than $392 monthly or a one-bedroom unit for no more than $456. Minimum rent is $50 per month. Utilities are paid by the Housing Authority minus a $5 monthly charge.
According to the Housing Authority figures, the population of the high-rises is getting much younger.
In Princeton, 52 percent of the residents are single men, 47 percent are female and the senior population makes up just 31 percent of the residents — 69 percent are non-elderly.
Spring Valley, on the other hand, is 63 percent female vs. 37 percent male but has a similar age breakdown with just 32 percent elderly and 68 percent non-elderly.
The shift in demographics points to a shift in culture as well, Hand said.
“We used to have a full kitchen with dining room,” she said, “The same with Spring Valley, but we don’t have the need for it anymore.”
Still, the building amenities include vending machines, a pool table, low-cost internet, a Laundromat, exercise and activity rooms which she said many residents take advantage of.
“These days, there’s less of a sense of community — we don’t have Bingo or anything, but people here get along well. People are working, they come and go, but we have residents that make close bonds,” Hand said.
“The goal for a lot of our residents is to get on their feet and use this as a stepping stone to private housing. While we’d love to have a tenant that moves in and stays 30 years, we consider those who transition out to be our success stories.”
While residents continue to get younger, the buildings continue to age, but Hand said maintenance isn’t an issue. The buildings receive capital grants yearly to maintain the facilities, which allows them to remain well maintained despite their age. Some upcoming projects, she said, are roof upgrades, tuckpointing and brick work, window seals and air condition panels.
“We really encourage people to come take a tour,” Hand said. “It’s not a scary place. We need to remove the stigma surrounding public housing. This is a great untapped resource.”