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Some Problems Emerge At Housing Development For Grandfamilies

Helen Ubiñas

March 08, 2009

I never thought the grandparents housing project was a good idea.

Back in 2003, when it was just a proposal, I said just that: Although helping overburdened grandparents caring for their children's children was laudable, we were in danger of creating a housing project much like those we'd spent hundreds of thousands tearing down.

Here was the big flaw: What was to keep the adult children from moving themselves and their problems in? There's a reason, after all, that they can't care for their children on their own.

So when I got a call from Barbara Turner the other day I wasn't surprised. Some of the outdoor lights were out, repairs inside her four-bedroom unit weren't being made and worse, she claimed, her neighbor's son had moved in straight out of prison.

I skipped the told-you-so. Making this call wasn't easy for Turner, who lives in the newly named Generations complex with four granddaughters.

Turner's been a true believer; she served on the planning committee and is president of the tenants' council. She defended the project to anyone who doubted its promise, including her lifelong best friend, who begged her not to move in.

Turner wasn't naive; she knew the pitfalls, but was determined to make this place different.

And then, Turner says, she began seeing signs that things were going wrong. A drug deal in the hallway. One grown son, then another moving in next door. She and neighbor Ruby Smith complained to Broad-Park Development Corp., which manages the property; to the Community Renewal Team, which runs the programs at the complex. They say they were thanked for the information, and sent on their way.

"This is my home," Turner said. "I want to live here. I want it to work, but if they aren't going to listen to us, it's doomed."

After talking to Turner and Smith the other day, I walked over to the nearby management office, where, under the watchful eye of CRT spokeswoman Nancy Pappas, I met with Carmen Stanford, manager of the complex.Stanford knew all about the residents' concerns. Police investigated reports of illegal activity, she said, and found nothing. Everything, she assured me, was under control, and she'd told the residents as much.

But there was an issue of confidentiality here and she couldn't tell me — or them — much more.

Confidentiality is fine, I told her, but these grandparents have a lot riding on the success and safety of this complex. They deserve to know what's going on. And a grown man just out of prison living in a development meant only for grandparents and their grandchildren is a big problem.

Stanford hesitated, but then said this was an extenuating circumstance. The grandmother had a stroke and was unable to care for herself or her grandson. Her son, who Stanford insisted has only been living there for a few months, was in the process of gaining custody of the child and moving out with him.

What were they supposed to do, she said, throw the grown son out and send an innocent boy into the system?

I tend to believe the folks who live there over the people paid to manage, but there's no way — and no reason, really — to figure out at this point what happened when.

This much is clear. The danger of this experiment going south is real and it doesn't take long for things to go from bad to worse. We know it. We've seen it.

Despite disagreements over how this situation has been handled, it's evident that both management and the residents really want this housing complex to work. But to do that, there has to be a plan, a way to attack these problems in a way that keeps everyone involved and informed.

And the last thing management should do is alienate these grandmothers, who are the development's best bet for success.

That means real communication. Not, "We'll take care of it, thanks."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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