Kevin Griffin spent many years trying to convince his parents to sell their home and move into The Yorkhouse, a housing facility with luxury-style apartments built for seniors age 55 and older. Griffin said it had become increasingly difficult for him to travel to their home regularly in order to ensure that they had taken their medicines and were staying healthy. After years of being unable to persuade his parents, he decided to have his birthday party at Yorkhouse and invited them so they could see it for themselves.
“When my mom saw the building she fell in love with it and did not want to go home,” Griffin said. “I told her it was time to go home but she said, ‘I thought we were moving in here.’ Once they moved in it was a complete turnaround for their habits and health.”
The structure for Yorkhouse was built in 1964 as a nursing home that was part of the Philadelphia Geriatrich Center. In 2004, it was bought and turned into what is looks like today by the Lindy Property Management Co. The company has been providing luxury apartment communities since 1939.
Griffin is one of the employees who has been involved with Yorkhouse since its restructure under Lindy management. Apart from his job as front desk supervisor, he is also a resident and helps to maintain security for Yorkhouse.
Griffin said his job never ends.
“I like to think of myself as more of a concierge,” Griffin said. “We have maintenance here. But if a resident moves in and does not how to program their TV, I’ll program the TV. We have residents who sometimes can’t make it to the trash room. So in the morning before I start work, I take it for them. Before I check out of work, I go around the building to see if anyone needs anything and they usually do. It is a 24 hour job, seven days a week, but I feel a lot better knowing that I am doing something positive.”
Though most of the residents agreed Yorkhouse is one of the finest living quarters they have ever had, not all seniors in Philadelphia are as fortunate to have people like Griffin and the other Yorkhouse staff to help them get by.
“Though people often think of high rises when they think of elderly housing, in Philadelphia close to 80 percent of seniors own their own homes,” said Susan Klein, the director of housing at The Philadelphia Corporation for Aging. “For a lot of people, owning a home has been the financial achievement of their life and so the home has many different meanings for them.”
Klein said that oftentimes people grow an emotional attachment to their homes because they associate it with their sense of accomplishment, the place where they raised their families and their idea of a community. It is because of these reasons that most seniors choose to continue living in their homes well after it has become a physical and financial challenge to maintain.
“The design is a very significant impediment to aging in a place,” Klein said. “This home may have a lot of meaning but that does not necessarily make it the best place for a person to age successfully. Disabilities are often defined not by a disease, but instead whether a person has the ability to carry out activities of daily living by themselves. The question becomes whether people can go to the toilet by themselves, cook by themselves, reach things in the kitchen and sometimes even do something as simple as standing up without assistance. Oftentimes we find that it is the home that creates that disability.”
Klein said that one of the main issues in the city is the lack of affordable homes for seniors. She said many of the buildings that do provide affordable housing have an average of at least one person waiting per unit. Not only have the long waits discouraged people, but it also makes the search for housing very competitive.
“Journey’s Way, one of the senior centers in Philadelphia, was opening up a senior building called Maple Village and they announced when they would start taking applications,” Klein said. “When they went in that morning, they found seniors camping out to be in line to get the application. On the first day, they had 200 applicants for a building with only 60 units.”
According to “Looking Ahead: Philadelphia’s Aging Population in 2015,” a booklet commissioned by The Philadelphia Corporation for Aging, which uses data analysis and research to predict the livelihood of seniors living in Philadelphia in the year 2015, within the next nine years, the number of households occupied by seniors is expected to grow nearly 53 percent. This increase brings on the concern of whether these homes will be safe, sanitary and affordable.
Bnita Govens, the property manager for Yorkhouse, said one of the main reasons most of the residents decided to move to Yorkhouse was to live a carefree life with no maintenance, where safety would be guaranteed and utilities and amenities would be provided at no extra cost. Govens said the 13-story building is comprised of studio and one-bedroom apartments starting at $895 per month.
Govens said Yorkhouse provides a place where people can enjoy the company of others their own age and be afforded the privilege of living independently while still being around people who care for them.
“Very often you find someone who had a stroke or was a veteran and lost his legs and they think that their only option is to go to an assisted-living facility, but then they find this place and it makes all the difference to them,” said Tommie Warder, a leasing agent for Yorkhouse. “Assisted living means that you’re sort of in a hospital where people tell you when to eat and when to wake up, but it also means that people are less independent than they may want to be. After people come to Yorkhouse, they get better and it is not any miracle but they feel better and realize that they are still in control of their lives.”
Warder said most important is the fact that Yorkhouse allows seniors to age successfully without paying $5,000 a month, the starting cost of an average luxury living facility.
While some seniors enjoy the communal feel of Yorkhouse, Klein said the city continues to make advances toward providing accessible and affordable housing for those who prefer a more private lifestyle. One of these programs is the Adaptive Modification Program. AMP makes modifications to already existing homes, such as building first-floor bathrooms or installing exterior wheelchair lifts for people of all ages with disabilities. With programs such as AMP, people are allowed the option of staying in the homes that mean so much to them while still being able to get around comfortably.