Friday, October 29, 2010

Alternative Housing: Options for Seniors

Pisgah Village, in the Highland Park area of Los Angeles, is a unique housing project for low income seniors. Usually when we hear the term "housing project," it conjurs nothing but negative thoughts and images, but learning about Pisgah Village will change that. It may even change the way you think about housing and communities in general.

"Eden's garden" is how LA Times writer Mary MacVean described the place, "a collection of rehabilitated bungalows and new Craftsman-style buildings, 47 homes in all in a compound full of gardens and a fountain." (Photos available in the linked story.) Founded over one hundred years ago by a Pentacostal minister, the community has been served since 2002 through a partnership between the Christ Faith Mission church and the non-profit Women Organizing Resources, Knowledge and Services (WORKS). The houses were renovated and the village has received LA Conservancy, Governor's Historic Preservation and California Preservation Foundation awards.

The emphasis on food programs at Pisgah Village is "an effort to alleviate the problems of getting fresh, nutritious food [to residents]...along the lines of teaching people to fish rather than giving them one." Pesticide-free, organic gardening is taught, there's a produce farmer's market on site, cooking classes are available, and master gardener and water conservation classes are planned in an effort to develop self-sufficiency. Once a month, residents share a communal meal featuring dishes that reflect their ethnic diversity. Spanish and Korean language translators facilitate conversations.

There are other WORKS sites in addition to Pisgah Village, all offering the same type of programs:

Currently WORKS has successfully developed more than 1000 affordable housing units, providing attractive and affordable homes to families of modest means. Most of the households we serve earn between 30%-60% of the area median income (AMI), which in Los Angeles translates to $23,790- $47,580 in 2009 for a family or four.
But WORKS is not the only non-profit in LA dedicated to improving seniors' housing options. Rosemary McClure wrote a Times article last week entitled "Aging Artfully at the Burbank Senior Artists Colony:"

The Colony, which targets people 55 and older, opened in 2005 in an attractive five-story building a block from downtown Burbank. A sign outside says, "Get Active, Be Creative, Be Inspired." The words aren't just window dressing: On any given day, residents might be involved in an intergenerational writing workshop, a watercolor class, a sculpture seminar or a tai chi class. Or, they might be making a movie.
The Colony's many stimulating programs are the direct result of involvement by EngAGE, a non-profit organization founded by Tim Carpenter and devoted to providing lifelong learning and creative opportunities to seniors. (Full disclosure: I've taught writing classes for EngAGE and contributed commentaries to "Experience Talks," the radio show produced by EngAGE.) EngAGE serves nineteen apartment communities, but the Colony was the first one specifically built with these enriching programs in mind, thus the 45-seat theater, artists' studios, computer center, digital film editing lab, and communal areas large enough to host jazz combo performances and fundraisers. The Colony has been recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts as "a model for creative aging." While most apartments rent at market rates, some of the units are dedicated to low-income housing.

I've written in the past about alternative housing and intentional communities, but Pisgah Village and Burbank Senior Artists Colony are distinctive in their focus on seniors. Independent living when you're older can result in isolation, but it seems there's little chance of that in either of these communities. And with housing costs taking the largest share of our consumer dollars, the extra value added by living in a nurturing environment can be priceless.

Do you know of interesting housing options for seniors in your area? Do you have concerns about your own housing choices when you're older? How would you feel about living in communities like these, or do you have ideas about another type of community you'd find appealing?

© 2010 Cynthia Friedlob
Image: Graur Razvan Ionut at

Related post:

Friday, October 15, 2010

Blog Action Day: Water

Consumer choices may feel personal, but they're always global. Whatever we do has some impact on everyone else, even if it's indirect. That thought is rather mindboggling and can make us feel paralyzed with indecision or resentful that we're supposed to be so darn responsible when we've got plenty of other thoughts to occupy our minds that have immediate impact on our own lives, thank you very much. That's why I want to take a different approach to my participation in this year's Blog Action Day. The topic is water. Over 4,000 bloggers will be discussing it in their posts today, covering every facet of the issue. But here at The Thoughtful Consumer, first let's just cut to the chase:

(1) There's not enough water in many parts of the world and often when there is enough, it's not readily available or clean.

 (2) if you're reading this blog, you're undoubtedly one of the lucky people who has access to water by simply turning on a tap. You're also probably quite aware that there are things that you can do to conserve water (maybe you're even doing many of them) and that there are charities that are working very hard to provide water for people who desperately need it (Drop in the Bucket is a favorite of mine that I've mentioned in the past).

And now, rather than focusing in more detail on the substantial and often tragic problems that the world faces concerning water, or even on other charities or specific solutions to those problems, I'd simply like to offer some images of water that, I hope, will make all of us feel gratitude and will inspire us to find a way to help share this crucial, life-giving natural resource that belongs to everyone.

Please enjoy, contemplate, then do whatever feels right:

(c) 2010 Cynthia Friedlob
All images from Stock.Xchng