Nurul Khan and his wife Farida Begum are an older Bengali couple from Queens who lived for 30 years in damp basement apartments in Jamaica, Queens until recently.
“It was so damp I got arthritis,” Farida Begum said to visitors recently. “The basement was freezing.”
After living in damp basement apartments for 30 years, seniors Nurul Khan and his wife Farida Begum recently moved into affordable senior housing
The visitors were in Farida Begum’s brand new apartment on 96th avenue. Tiny and spry, the 58 year old rushed about the apartment getting us snacks and making chai on her brand new stovetop.
“I never saw the sun for all those years. My body used to ache all over.” “Now look!” She gestures with delight to the window that looks out on to Amsterdam avenue and where her squash and chili plants on the sill soak in the sun.
In 2017, India Home helped Mr and Mrs. Khan re-apply for an affordable senior apartment with the city. A year later, the Khans moved into an apartment owned by NYCHA (New York City Housing Authority), in one of the city’s 41 seniors-only developments.
Mr and Mrs. Khan have been allotted a one-bedroom apartment. For seniors on a fixed income finding affordable housing can be challenging
“Thank Allah for getting us this house.” Farida Begum said proudly showing us the kitchen and the bathroom in the spotless one – bedroom apartment . “Everything is very nice.”
Mr and Mrs. Khan are the lucky ones who managed to get an apartment they can afford. Many others are not so fortunate.
In New York City, the number of people over age 65 has passed the one million mark for the first time in history and 462,000 of those are over 75 years old. By 2040, one in five city residents will be an older adult. However, there’s a severe shortage of affordable senior housing for this rapidly growing population.
In January of 2016 LiveOn NY, an advocacy group for aging New Yorkers released a survey of affordable senior housing buildings located in New York City, financed through Section 202 of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). An astounding 110,912 seniors were found to be on waiting lists for affordable housing through the HUD 202 Program. With a citywide response rate of 46%, LiveOn NY estimated that upwards of 200,000 individuals were likely to be on waiting lists in New York City. Further, the study found that seniors wait an average of 7 years after first applying to receive affordable housing, with some having to wait as long as 10 years.
After living in dank basements for 30 years, Farida Begum is happy to live in a bright apartment where she can grow green beans and squash on her window sill.
Nationally, too, a 2014 study by the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies and AARP Foundation concluded that for the older U.S. population, “Housing that is affordable, physically accessible, well-located and coordinated with supports and services is in too short supply.”
The situation has steadily worsened for seniors since back in 2012, the Federal government under President Obama cut funds for new private affordable housing developments under Section 202 of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
In Jamaica, the Khan’s were paying $1300 for the basement apartment. Nurul Khan (68) continues to work doing security with a contractor at JFK airport, as he has for the past 20 years. His wife retired from working at Rug Doctor in Long Island, repairing carpets. They didn’t have children and have had to depend on these low paying jobs to support themselves. Their economic circumstances have worsened because of the rising rents. Their landlord threatened to raise the rent and that’s when they came to India Home’s Case management team. The team reactivated an old application that had fallen dormant and helped the couple to reapply.
According to the New York Times, “for those who are still working age, it’s getting harder to pay the rent: According to a StreetEasy survey, rents in the city rose twice as fast as wages between 2010 and 2017. The lowest rents (those up to $2,300) rose 4.9 percent annually since 2010, which means someone who paid $1,500 a month in 2010 likely paid nearly $600 more for the same place in 2017.”
For seniors on a fixed income it can be a challenge to find affordable housing in NYC. The application process is confusing for immigrants with limited English skills, and the wait lists long. Even when they do get an apartment, seniors are often displaced from all that is familiar.
Social Isolation is a problem
Farida Begum says she has to depend on her husband now to get Bengali groceries from Queens. While they live in an area that is well connected to public transport, Farida says she’s afraid now to take the train all the way to Queens to see her relatives and friends because she may get lost.
“This is a beautiful apartment, but I ‘m scared. Who will come here to help if something happens to us?” Farida Begum says.
A growing percentage of New Yorkers prefer to age in their community, surrounded by their friends and relatives and supports cultivated over a lifetime. However, given the fact that there are not enough apartments to go around, seniors like Nurul Khan and Farida Begum have to take whatever they can get, even if it is far from their friends and relatives.
But Mr. Khan hopes that things may change soon. “There’s some new apartments that have opened up in Queens.” He’s been keeping track.
India Home’s Dilafroz Nargis Ahmed has won AARP’s Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Community Hero Award. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) created the award in 2016 to acknowledge the hard-working staff and volunteers of nonprofit organizations serving AAPIs age 50-plus. AARP is the largest membership organization in the United States with over 38 million members across the country.
Nargis Ahmed, or Nargis Apa, as she is known to the seniors and staff, is the Center Director at India Home’s Desi Senior Center, the largest Muslim senior center in New York City. A staff member since 2014, Nargis has worked tirelessly to make the Desi Senior Center a warm and welcoming place for new immigrant Bangladeshi Muslim seniors, helping them to access social services, feel comfortable in their new country and integrate into American society. As Center Director, she oversees the programming that improves the well being of her seniors and provides a safe haven for the over 150 Muslim seniors who visit the center every program day. She also advocates for our seniors, providing valuable culturally relevant testimony and perspective to elected officials and city and state authorities on issues as varied as halal home delivered meals and transportation.
Talk to our seniors about Nargis, and they say that they look forward to coming to the center every day because of her warm and generous nature. She knows each one of them and their problems and always has the time to stop and listen. She has been their hero all along.
AARP garnered 61 nominations for the award and their judges chose 10 outstanding finalists. A popular vote competition on Facebook helped involve the AAPI communities and choose the top three winners. The top three finalists will each be awarded with $1,000 dollars and another $1,000 dollars will go to the non-profit organizations they represent.
Congratulations to them all — and especially to Nargis for her hard work and dedication to her community and India Home’s mission.
A fit older man in a dapper suit suit turns to his wife and sings a few lines from a romantic song in Hindi, ” Life is nothing but your story and mine,” he croons. She laughs, almost shy, as he puts his arms around her. As he continues to speak of his love and their life together, they both begin to cry.
The couple in the video are Dinesh and Kusumben Parmar, active members of India Home. They are the stars in a video campaign created for AARP by Next Day Better, a media company that specializes in telling stories about Asian American communities.
His goal is two-fold says Ryan Letada, CEO and Co-Founder. On the one hand they want to bring immigrant Asian American and Pacific Islander stories and histories into the mainstream; on the other they want to “build intergenerational/inter-relationship understanding and empathy to strengthen and unify families.”
Next Day Better asked Dinesh and Kusumben to share their “love origin story” as a way to highlight their family’s history in America, a history that is shared by so many other immigrants to this country. Immigrants like Dinesh and Kusumben know that their stories go beyond mere romance to encompass an unconditional love that is expressed through courage, long struggle and sacrifice for the sake of family. Dinesh poignantly sums up the stories of so many new comers to America when he describes the couple’s life together as a ” journey of sacrifice, sorrow and happiness. ”
Watch the video for more on Dinesh and Kusumben’s poignant love story.
DFTA Commissioner Donna Corrado at the Aging In Place Conference
Almost all of the adults we serve at India Home’s four centers in Queens are “aging in place,” or living independently in their homes. They get to choose their communities. They get to participate and contribute in their neighborhoods and maintain and widen their friendships and social connections. “Aging in Place” thus gives our members a sense of purpose and of their place in their immediate community and larger society. New York city has been active in developing age-friendly agendas, but suburban communities need to ramp up their efforts in creating livable and viable spaces for the aging.
The need becomes more pressing when we consider that by 2030 New York State is expected to experience a 40% growth in its 60+ population, increasing from 3.7 million in 2015 to 5.3 million. While almost all of New York State will experience rapid growth of people in the 75-85 and 85+ cohort, New York City, Nassau, and Suffolk counties are home to the largest older adult populations of immigrants and people of color, like the South Asian seniors we serve at India Home.
Dr. Vasundhara Kalasapudi and Jacqueline B. Mondros, Dean and VP, Stony Brook University
It is with all these important considerations in mind that DFTA Commissioner Donna Corrado and others from NYS Office of Aging, AARP NY, and several other government and medical organizations along with experts in various fields serving older adults joined together to hold a Working Summit at the Hilton Garden Hotel on the campus of Stony Brook University.
Dr. Vasundhara Kalasapudi represented India Home and provided input on the problems unique to South Asian elders at the conference. India Home’s early programs started in very suburban locations such as Queens Village, Baldwin, and Elmont. Through these experiences have given Dr. Kalasapudi a unique insight into best practices for culturally appropriate senior services in the suburban setting.
India Home wins the 2016 Local Community Leadership Award from NYU and AARP. Seen here with Daphne Kwok, the VP of Multi-cultural Affairs
India Home was awarded the 2016 Local Community Action Leadership Award by NYU CSAAH and AARP at the 8th Annual Aging Together, Bridging Generations conference for Asian Americans and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders. This award recognized individuals and organizations that have made significant contributions to improving the health of Asian American and Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander (AA and NHPI) older adults. We were honored for our leadership and commitment in advocating for and providing vital health and social service needs to the Indian and larger South Asian immigrant older adult community. NYU CSAAH felt that the organization’s visionary leadership had been critical in helping to achieve their mission to reduce health disparities in the Asian American community through outreach, education and research. NYU CSAAH is the only center of its kind in the country that is solely dedicated to research and evaluation on Asian American health and health disparities.
India Home was also invited to be on a panel titled “Improving Health at the Community Level: Community-Based Innovative Approaches and Promising Practices.” We discussed our use culturally sensitive health practices like Ayurveda and Yoga classes to attract, retain, and attain buy-in for continuing health education from our South Asian members. We also discussed the myriad ways in which we use community-specific dance, food, talks and trips that are culturally appropriate to combat social isolation and keep our seniors happy and attend to their physical and mental wellbeing.
Among the special guests at the conference were keynote speaker Jeanette C. Takamura, MSW, PhD, Dean of Social Work at Columbia University School of Social Work (and Former Assistant Secretary of Aging at US Department of Health & Human Services), as well as MSNBC anchor Richard Lui and AARP’s community ambassador, the famous retired general Tony Taguba.