New housing in KC is for grandfamilies

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A new housing project in Kansas City is devoted to grandparents who are raising their grandchildren.

Pemberton Park is one of a handful of housing projects of its kind across the country and the first like it in the Kansas City area. Kansas City Housing Authority officials say it’s devoted to “grandfamilies” — families in which grandparents or other relatives 55 and older raise children from their extended families, according to The Kansas City Star.

Most affordable housing developments cater to seniors only — no children allowed — or to young families, said Edwin Lowndes, Housing Authority executive director. Family units often pose difficulties for some seniors, with stairs, narrow doors and hallways, and bedrooms on a second floor.

Pemberton Park was designed as a “hybrid” to address the physical and social service needs of both seniors and children, in recognition of the growing trend of families with that generation gap. To be eligible, families must make no more than 60 percent of area median income, based on family size.

Pemberton Park has 36 apartments in two buildings with a grandparents lounge, playground, community room, computer lab, and arts and crafts room.

The units are priced from $525 for a two-bedroom unit to $775 for a four-bedroom. But many eligible families already have Section 8 vouchers or can apply for them, allowing them to pay 30 percent of their adjusted income.

“It’s a growing need,” said JoAnn Stovall, program coordinator with the Family Friends Program, a grandparent/relative caregiver support service based at Children’s Mercy Hospital. “It’s not like it’s going away.”

Stovall said grandparents or senior relatives most commonly step in as caregivers if an adult child has substance abuse problems. Mental illness, death of the adult child or other difficulties also can thrust the grandparent into a caregiver role.

Family Friends conducts grandparent support groups throughout the area, providing participants with guidance and links to community resources. But until now, it did not have housing options specifically for that demographic.

The 2000 U.S. census found 4.5 million children under age 18 living in households headed by a grandparent. That number grew to 5.7 million in 2005. Figures from the 2010 census aren’t available.

The idea for Kansas City housing tailored to grandfamilies originated several years ago with Brian Collins, senior associate with Cougar Capital, a Parkville-based developer of affordable housing. He heard about a project that opened in 2005 in New York’s Bronx and thought the idea would work in Kansas City. Similar projects have been developed in Boston; Chicago; Detroit; Hartford, Conn.; Phoenix; and Baton Rouge, La.

Cougar Capital applied for tax credits in 2008 and won them, but then the financial market for tax credits collapsed. Eventually the project was financed with $7.3 million in federal tax credit replacement funds and $435,000 in private investment.

“It’s a piece of heaven right here on earth,” said Ruby Johnson as she showed off the apartment she and her 17-year-old grandson are moving into at Pemberton Park.

Johnson, 60, has been raising her grandson Curtis since he was a baby. Now he’s a junior at the Southwest Early College Campus. They can stay in their grandfamily unit until Curtis turns 21.

“Look here. Isn’t it gorgeous?” she said as she showed off the new appliances and kitchen cabinets. “I’ve never had anything like this.”

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Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com

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