by Maureen Hartmann

[dropcap]C[/dropcap]hristian Church Homes (CCH) provides housing for 5,000 low-income seniors, and administers 60 low-income senior housing residences in six states. It is now the largest nonprofit, low-income senior housing program in Northern California.
In Oakland, CCH manages Westlake Christian Terrace East and West, two independent-living communities for seniors that provide comfortable apartments with on-site social services. The goal is to provide services that enable seniors to remain in their homes, living independently with dignity and a good quality of life for the long haul.
Although these are nonprofit residences for low-income seniors, Westlake Christian Terrace East and West are far larger than many nonprofit housing complexes. Both WCT East and West are highrise apartment buildings and both provide 200 units of housing for seniors.
WCT West is located at 275 28th Street, and WCT East is located nearby at 251 28th Street in downtown Oakland.
Christian Church Homes originally was founded by members of the Disciples of Christ, a liberal Protestant denomination. Nevertheless, there are no denominational criteria for admission, nor requirement for religious practice during tenancy.
Recently, Christian Church Homes was in the news when Margaret Salazar, Senior Housing Specialist of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), congratulated CCH President Don Stump on directing the first senior housing program in the nation to be awarded HUD’s preservation funding to renovate their senior housing building at Westlake Christian Terrace East.
At WCT East, CCH provides affordable apartments with on-site services to seniors over the age of 62. The HUD funding will enable CCH to undertake a complete renovation of all 200 residential units, from floor to ceiling — literally.
The 200 units of senior housing will be upgraded with new flooring, new bathrooms and kitchens, new windows and doors, and a two-level “grand lobby.”
CCH President Stump spoke about the vision and mission of CCH to the Westlake Christian Terrace Resident Council on Oct. 25, 2012. Stump told the board and other residents about his recent meeting in Denver with HUD officials. There, Stump got the promise that HUD would make the renovation of Westlake Christian Terrace the top priority out of a thousand construction projects.
Stump said he was pleased that city, state, and federal tax dollars are going toward the needs of low-income seniors. “CCH staff, as well as several consultants, have been negotiating with HUD, the Oakland Housing Authority, and several banks for two years to make this rehabilitation of Westlake come to reality,” he said.
Stump noted that CCH has asked HUD for 100 percent Section 8 vouchers in the WCT East Building. Section 8 is a federal entitlement program through which tenants pay only 30 percent of their income for rent. Stump said that CCH negotiated with HUD for 18 months to get Section 8 for all its residents.
HUD finally granted Section 8 subsidies to the tenants, when CCH paid off its mortgage to HUD, and could re-finance the building. So, as Stump pointed out, after the renovation, rents for the low-income seniors will decrease, and paradoxically, residents will enjoy many improvements in their living conditions.

The Silver Tsunami

Stump described the rapid growth of seniors in America, utilizing a graph and a well-researched set of statistics in the CCH Annual Report of 2012. At present, 11 percent of the U.S. population is over the age of 65. By the year 2050, 20 percent of the country will be over the age of 65.
Some have called it the “silver tsunami,” referring to an overwhelming wave of aging seniors as the Baby Boom generation passes the age of 65 and retires. Every day, about 10,000 U.S. residents become senior citizens. The CCH report shows that the 65-and-older population will more than double, from 40 million seniors in 2012 to 80 million by 2050. In that same period, the 85-and-older population is predicted to quadruple.
A lot of those folks need more affordable housing, considering the nation’s current economic troubles. During this recent recession, many people lost their retirement funds.
As one response to this soon-to-come societal crisis, groups of seniors from CCH residences often travel to Sacramento to speak to legislators about the urgent need for California to construct more senior housing apartment buildings.
Another contemporary issue in senior housing is lack of communication between residents speaking different languages. Stump said that staff members of CCH’s residences are provided with translation telephones, with two receivers. The staff person can pick up one receiver, and speak in English, and a resident can pick up another receiver, and speak in his/her own language.
Since translation is one of the real challenges in working with low-income seniors, CCH gave a small grant of $1000 to the WCT Resident Council to begin solving the problem of communication between different languages in their meetings. The WCT Resident Council uses the same solution of borrowing headphones, and the translator speaking into a microphone, as the United Nations does. Someone sits in the back of the room, and talks into a microphone, translating into Korean or Chinese.

During the recent recession, many seniors lost their retirement funds, and the need for affordable housing is greater than ever. Art by Christa Occhiogrosso

The two-year renovation of Westlake Christian Terrace’s East Building began about Oct. 15, 2012. CCH has raised and designated $20 million for the renovation.

Residents not forced to move

In order to protect their feelings of safety, privacy and dignity in their homes, the senior residents are not asked to move out of the building, even during these major renovations. Instead, by an elaborate system, residents move out of their own apartments into another’s apartment, so that their own apartments are left empty, and can be refurbished.
A resident of the WCT East Building, Linda Saiah, asked Don Stump if the new apartments would have lower cupboards, higher toilets, and bathtub bars. She was concerned about her own safety, and that of other residents. Stump answered in the affirmative.
During Stump’s meeting with the resident council, another woman pointed out that the emergency call buttons in the kitchen and the bathroom were too high. Stump noted that the new call buttons would have a string, which can be pulled from anywhere.
He added that a temporary laundry room would be installed in a vacant apartment on the first floor to replace the second-floor washroom, which is being torn up during the renovation. Eventually, there will be a brand new laundry on the first floor.
An operations manager, and a man who would handle grievances of the residents, Chris Turner, were hired for the two-year remodeling, and were introduced by Stump at the October meeting.
Another woman resident found herself badly affected by the remodeling of the East Building. She had rescheduled hip surgery three times, first in April, then June, then August of this year, when each time the management put off the date of the renovation. She did not want to return to her apartment from the hospital, and while recovering, have to deal with packing her things in her old home, and unpacking them in her new home.
She had to deal with her move on October 17, when the date finally came, in discomfort and pain in her right hip. All this uncertainty about what her circumstances would be after surgery has caused her to put off surgery until the beginning of 2013. Worse, she faced the emotional frustration of not being able to get the stress of surgery over with before the beginning of the year.

Concerns about safety

Another member of the council brought up concerns about the safety of senior residents unable to park at the facility. Due to the unavailability of parking at WCT East, her car had been vandalized, and on one occasion, she had the disturbing experience of being followed home to her residence from her car.
Younger and more able-bodied staff workers had parking spaces reserved on the grounds, while residents who had no spaces reserved had to park off the grounds and walk in the dark to their apartments, taking the chance of being victims of crimes. Residents proposed a policy that at least those spaces left vacant by staff on evenings and weekends be given to residents.

Applying for senior housing

The Christian Church Homes website is a way to begin an application for tenancy at one of the CCH residences. See the website at or phone at (510) 632-6712.
If you wish to donate to CCH, contributions may be made by credit card by clicking on “support” on the black bar at the top of the home page. Checks may be sent to: Christian Church Homes, 303 Hegenberger Road, Suite 201, Oakland, CA 94621.The contributions may be earmarked to the East Building of Westlake Christian Terrace, if desired.