Why has South Brooklyn experienced a loss of several of its cohesive senior communities and how might this affect the health of this population in the future?
Senior members of our community, those aged 65 years and over, require special resources and government aid due to increasing vulnerability as the population ages. The health of elderly residents is oftentimes largely based on their access to a cohesive, unified community and their close proximity to specifically tailored programs. As gentrification and rent prices continue to increase throughout the borough of Brooklyn, senior residents are especially susceptible to displacement as these neighborhoods become less and less habitable for low-income residents. A 2000 report by the SUNY Downstate Medical Center identified that over half of the borough's seniors were located in South Brooklyn neighborhoods (SUNY Downstate Medical, 2000). While there are high concentrations of seniors located in nearby neighborhoods, such as Bed-Stuy/Crown Heights and Flatbush, this investigation focuses predominately on South Brooklyn as a case study in order to better understand the phenomenon of senior displacement and the growing need for access to adequate resources.
Main tools used: ArcGIS (ArcMap)
This project will focus on several different factors in order to better understand senior displacement:
A. The Importance of Cohesive Communities (groups of seniors living in the same area)
B. Seniors as a Vulnerable Population
C. Displacement through a Changing Housing Situation
D. Displacement by Natural Disaster
E. Access to Facilities and Transportation
This examination predominately focuses on the significance of groups of seniors that live in close proximity and often share the same nearby resources. Many of these individuals have resided in the same place for more than 20 years (Aurand, 2014), and as this original population grows older, senior communities will form naturally. These smaller groups can sometimes be officially recognized by the city government as Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs), and therefore receive special benefits similar to that of a senior home (NYS Office for the Aging). According to the New York State government, NORCs can exist within neighborhoods or a single apartment complex as long as they follow a set of definitive guidelines, such as “50 percent of the units have an occupant who is elderly, or 2,500 of the residents are 60 or older” for buildings, and “not more than 2,000 people who are elderly (aged 60 or older) reside in at least 40 percent of the units” for neighborhoods. (NYS Office for the Aging) A full list of these regulations can be found on the NYS Office for the Aging website.
This study acknowledges NORCs as important focal points of senior population concentration, but also extends the focus to observing unrecognized concentrations of seniors existing within various census tracts throughout South Brooklyn. Many of these neighborhoods, although they may contain a high population of senior residents, may not officially qualify for the NORC program in New York City. The purpose of extending this scope is to identify communities that have the potential to become NORCs in the future, and to identify communities that may not qualify under the stringent rules required for a NORC, but still require similar resources. While NORC regulations define seniors as those over 60, in order to better align with census data, this project defines seniors as those over the age of 65.
Cohesive communities of seniors provide the population with nearby access to important facilites, a sense of community, and alleviation from growing isolation as these individuals age. These units also make it easier for the government to decide the best locations for senior programs, in order to reach as many seniors in the most effective way possible. With waitlisting for senior-focused affordable housing in New York City ranging on average from 7-10 years, these natural clusters are becoming even more necessary (Sackman, 2016). According to census data, there has been a significant decline in these groups throughout the study area between 2006 and 2015, as South Brooklyn has suffered an overall decrease in its population over age 65. This trend differs from the national trend as the senior population continues to grow at increasing rates (Aurand, 2014). Seniors face particular challenges that may be the root cause of the dispersion of these communities.
In order to better understand the developing trends of senior displacement, we focused on the Bensonhurst/Bath Beach neighborhood boundary as a case study, to demonstrate how a neighborhood’s loss of elderly residents may be due to a number of different factors. Through observing maps showing the change in senior population between 2006 and 2015, we see a general trend of shrinking communities, as census tracts with over 30% of senior residents decreased substantially. This is pronounced especially in our study area of the Bensonhurst/Bath Beach neighborhoods where a NORC is actually already present.
The senior population as a whole tends to face higher rates of poverty, unemployment, and rent burden (greater than 30% of income attributed to rent) (Pomeranz, 2015). They tend to have a low fixed income, as many of them are unemployed and are relying on social security retirement checks as their main source of income. Many face more prevalent disabilities and health issues, contributing to increased unemployment and greater medical costs. The elderly are also more vulnerable in emergency situations, such as natural disasters, as many of them are often isolated from outside contact and are more likely to be immobile (Cornell Chronicle article by Sylvia Harvey on research conducted by Elaine Wethington, 2013). Seniors even face a higher rate of poor mental health, as they experience greater social isolation as they age. All of these factors contribute to the vulnerability of this population, causing these communities to be more susceptible to displacement.
The average rate of poverty in these neighborhoods for seniors is 6.4%, which is lower than the national average for all ages of 12.7% in 2016 (Semega, 2017). While this rate may be lower than the national average, more than half (59%) of the seniors in South Brooklyn are contributing more than 30% of their income to rent, indicating a high rate of severe rent burden. Areas with the greatest concentrations of impoverished seniors include Coney Island, Homecrest, Madison, Sheepshead Bay, and our case study area of Bensonhurst/Bath Beach. With rent rising at 8.24% in these neighborhoods between the years of 2006 and 2015, many seniors may face a higher chance of homelessness.
About 53% of the householders in this area over 65 rent their homes. While home ownership is an important factor to consider when examining displacement and the prevalence of clustering, this project predominately focuses on seniors that rent their homes, as they are more likely to face displacement due to rising rent prices and evictions. Further investigation into the nuances of home ownership and its effect on seniors in South Brooklyn is important to fully understanding the phenomena of gentrification and dispersion.
As pervasive gentrification continues throughout Brooklyn, seniors tend to encounter harsher consequences than the younger population. As a predominately low-income group, they are already vulnerable to rent increases, loss of rent stabilization, and evictions. Seniors also face greater challenges in defending themselves against landlords that are trying to push their long-time tenants out of their homes through intimidation and refusing repairs.
A map of the Hurricane Sandy flood zones was also included to demonstrate displacement from natural disasters. Seniors are more vulnerable to natural disasters because they are more likely to live alone, meaning they have less access to outside information and resources, and they tend to be less mobile than the younger population. Most flooding occurred in Coney Island, a neighborhood that has experienced relatively little loss of its senior population, which shows that the threat of flooding did not dissuade most seniors from continuing to reside in this area. This trend is important to note when examining why senior communities have disappeared from flood-prone areas. While many of these seniors may have lost their homes or been injured by the hurricane, Coney Island remains a popular living area for the older population, and therefore demonstrates that natural disasters may not be playing that large of a role in pushing seniors out of South Brooklyn compared to changing rents.
Although the government of New York City provides a number of helpful programs for seniors through its Office for the Aging, due to a shift in concentration of seniors, the locations of these facilities may not be optimal for reaching the bulk of the elderly population.
Transportation for people with disabilities is incredibly lacking throughout the city, but is especially poor in South Brooklyn, as only three subway stops provide wheelchair accessible transportation. Buses remain the best cheap means of transportation, as many accessible car services can be expensive and difficult to use.
The Bensonhurst/Bath Beach neighborhood represents an area that was highly concentrated with seniors in 2006-2010, and even consists of a NORC, but has experienced significant decreases of the population in 2011-2015. This area's residents originally suffered from greater poverty and greater rent burden, and therefore were more likely to experience displacement as the number of evictions between 2013 and 2015 resided heavily in these tracts, and rent stabilization decreases and rent increases challenged the community. These neighborhoods represent a dangerous trend among senior populations, as circumstances leading to displacement can break up communities and eventually lead to poorer overall health for the population.
Studies have shown that access to cohesive communities provides seniors with better overall health and satisfaction (Aurand, 2014). With the dispersion of groups of seniors throughout South Brooklyn neighborhoods, this population may experience a loss in their access to important resources, and a loss of their sense of community, leading to worsened mental health. The City of New York can focus on a number of solutions that will result in healthier seniors:
Most data for this project was taken from the American Community Survey 5-year estimates (2006-2010) and (2011-2015), found on https://www.socialexplorer.com/
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