Supporting the Health and Well-Being of Older Detroiters: Forced Relocation in an Urban Context
By Tam Perry, Ph.D., M.S.S.W., M.A.
As Detroit gentrifies, some current low-income apartment tenants may be required to find new residences as these buildings change ownership. The impact of these decisions affects many seniors. This policy brief highlights relevant concerns around moving experiences in order to frame recommendations for policy and practice surrounding the involuntary relocation of older adults. Our coalition recommends increasing awareness of the needs of older adults and/or other vulnerable populations in the moving process, advocating that private interests consider and prepare for the costs, financial and other, of the necessary assistance for involuntary movers, and urging policy officials to require the provision of recommended assistance to relocating residents.
As Detroit’s urban core redevelops, it is expected that private ventures will have heightened interest in acquiring real estate in the city. We must ask how older adults are both part of its past, and part of its repopulating and rebuilding. By examining the health-related, emotional, financial, and logistical supports needed for urban seniors making a housing transition, this research raises awareness of the issues to policy makers creating revitalization incentives in order to create urban contexts for all ages.
In Detroit, it is critical to examine relocation in an urban context and its relationship to health and well-being. Relocation in older adulthood can be fraught with future concerns of autonomy, frailty, and mortality. While predictive factors of relocation, such as health of a spouse, have been established, limited attention has been paid to understanding the diversity of experiences in the process of moving in older adulthood. While moving at any age can be challenging, relocation in later life is an experience that often involves reconciling one’s past and possessions, and planning for one’s future needs.
In recent months, the Hannan Foundation convened a group of providers serving older adults in Detroit, and formed a coalition to address the needs of vulnerable seniors in Midtown and Downtown Detroit who face possible relocation. The group originally formed to help better understand the impact of forced relocation. In a collaborative effort, this coalition has come together to examine the issues and recommend ways to support older adults.
In order to ensure that older adult involuntary movers will receive specific, needed services and to make the involuntary moving process as successful and low-risk as possible, the coalition has identified two policy needs:
1. Increase awareness of the needs of older adults and/or other vulnerable populations in the moving process: physical health, mental health, emotional health, financial capacity, logistical needs, and the older adult’s network.
2. Policy officials need to require that those acquiring buildings resulting in seniors and other vulnerable populations relocating provide these recommended services: subsidize relocation costs for existing tenants, subsidize voluntary mental health/clinical assessments and services, and assure inter-agency coordination so older adults will have an identifiable point of contact, as well as monitoring the status of the individual for at least one year following relocation.
In examining the health-related, emotional, financial, and logistical supports needed for urban seniors making a housing transition, this issue brief identifies critical considerations in the relocation of seniors, and their implications for social policy. We realize that vigilance is required to facilitate accessibility to and understanding of information as well as ease of transition for older adults who relocate.
This post was excerpted from an issue brief written by Tam E. Perry, Ph.D., M.S.S.W., M.A., assistant professor in the School of Social Work, Wayne State University and principal investor on the MCUAAAR-funded project, “Leaving Home in Late Life: A post-move study of African American Elders and their kin in Detroit. She can be contacted at email@example.com. Her work is supported by the National Institutes of Health.