Low Income Residents & COVID-19

By Claudia Sanford, Chair, Senior Housing Preservation – Detroit

Nearly 6,000 older adults live in low-income buildings in Detroit, with approximately 3,400 in Midtown, Downtown, and the neighborhoods adjacent to the core city. Some of these Detroiters are homebound and may not be able to shop for groceries or get medical care without assistance. Those who are able to go out should not due to their age and physical vulnerability to the COVID-19 virus.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 stay-at-home order, there has been variation in how safety and health precautions are implemented in apartment buildings. Some managers are doing a good job informing residents of precautionary measures to protect residents and staff, while others provide limited information. Some building service coordinators are communicating with housing advocates and senior service providers to ensure that residents have resources, while other buildings lack a reliable source of food, groceries, and medications.

However, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, basic information sharing, and food delivery is not enough. A well-planned and coordinated response is vital to the survival of Detroit’s low-income senior population. This includes a sustained effort that will last until a vaccine or effective treatment is discovered.

The Senior Housing Preservation – Detroit (SHP-D) coalition works to preserve low-income senior housing in Midtown, Downtown and adjacent neighborhoods. SHP-D has partnered with the City of Detroit in its ongoing efforts to develop new and preserve existing quality housing for this population. Further, city and state partners have been responsive to SHP-D member concerns about the immediate needs of senior residents as the entire Detroit community addresses the current threat of COVID-19 and the needed stay-at-home strategies.

As part of our focus on preserving housing for low-income seniors, SHP-D works to show the link between stable housing and the health and well-being of seniors, emphasizing the contributions of older adults to the community. Given that, members of the coalition are organizing around the current crisis, especially as our members continue to see food, grocery, and protective item delivery as the greatest need. We are also focused on sustaining these supports for long-term needs. To that end, we recommend the following:

Identify buildings/populations at greatest risk.

  • Ensure safety and health of seniors living in low-income residences, including use of common building areas like hallways, elevators, laundry rooms, and mailrooms.
  • Develop ways to provide food and essential supplies, allowing residents to remain safe in their homes.
    Leverage ways to reduce social isolation through telecommunications, activities and other means.
    Recognize the challenge of managing senior housing buildings during the pandemic, and how the illness of frontline staff will affect the safety of residents.
  • Create a communication system to inform seniors about recommended precautions and how to get essential needs met, with the understanding that the population has limited access to online resources.
  • Designate a point-of-contact for seniors through a city department or established service provider.
    Mobilize the support of elected officials, philanthropic leaders, and others to help create a sustained emergency safety net for this vulnerable population.

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