By Colette Panchot
Finding safe, modern, and affordable housing can be a challenge. For older adults raising their minor grandchildren, the options are even more limited because public housing developments for seniors do not allow children to stay permanently.
Pemberton Park for Grandfamilies, located at 5010 Cleveland Avenue just west of Swope Health’s main campus, meets this need with an intergenerational, 36-unit apartment complex that is the only one of its kind in the region. The community offers more than housing to ‘generation-skipping’ families that come together suddenly if a parent becomes incapacitated or unavailable to fill a role in the family.
The attractive two-building apartment complex was a collaboration of The Housing Authority of Kansas City, Missouri; Cougar Capital; and Children’s Mercy Hospital, which conducted focus groups with grandparents about the type of location, services, and amenities they preferred.
Rose Stigger participated in that focus group, and in 2011 she became the first resident of Pemberton Park, along with her two young granddaughters. Her six-year-old great-grandson, Jaylynn Newton, is now living with her. Stigger is also a part-time Assistant Property Manager at Pemberton Park, works as a caregiver, is a national leader in Grandparents United, and is active in a local grandparents’ support group.
“These kids go through so much, and it’s traumatizing for them,” says Stigger, who is known as Mama Rose.
“I’m raising a third generation, and I’m 70 years old. You may think it’s time for me to have a break, but as long as I’m still living, I have to step in.”
Edwin Lowndes, Executive Director of the Housing Authority of Kansas City, Missouri, emphasizes how vital safe housing and community support is to grandfamilies’ well-being.
“We want our residents to know ‘You are not alone, you have stability here,” he says. “We connect families with services so that they are part of the total community.”
Lowndes says Pemberton Park currently has several openings for qualified grandfamilies who can come from anywhere in the country.
The secured apartment complex offers accessible two-, three-, and four-bedroom apartments that range from 830 to 1,395 square feet, with all appliances and a full-sized washer and dryer provided. Amenities include two common elevators, a playground, craft room, grandparents lounge, community room, and a computer learning center. The community is also pet-friendly, with one dog or cat per family.
Keonte Braxton, Social Service Coordinator, identifies with grandfamilies because he was raised by his own extended family.
“The grandparents here are in a position where they just use what they have and make do,” he says. “They need someone to be on their side.” He adds that some of the seniors have disabilities or caregivers of their own.
Supporting children is an added expense for Pemberton Park grandparents who are on limited incomes, and Braxton helps connect them to local resources, such as United Way of Greater Kansas City, the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, and The Salvation Army, which each help with rent or bill payments. Harvesters Community Food Network’s mobile pantry stops by monthly.
The children of the community grow up together, and the older youth who will be embarking on careers have an advocate in Braxton.
“I try to get their wheels turning so they can be successful in their lives,” he says.
All members of the community are assisted by Housing Choice Vouchers, in which their rent is based on the household’s income and the balance of the rent is covered by federal Section 8 funds.
Pemberton Park also requires that the head of household be 55+ years old and become a permanent legal guardian. Sam McHenry with Legal Aid of Western Missouri provides Pemberton Park residents with free legal services to establish custody or guardianships. Without proper legal standing, grandparents cannot authorize a child’s medical care or school services, for example.
The 2010 U.S. Census showed that 2.7 million grandparents were primarily responsible for one or more of their grandchildren. That year, 4,000 such households were identified in the Kansas City, Missouri, metropolitan area.
There are only a handful of intergenerational senior living communities in the United States. The Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan recently established the first National Technical Assistance Center for Grandfamily and Kinship Families. With this level of visibility and support, intergenerational communities like Pemberton Park could become more common in the future.
For more information on Pemberton Park, call 816-921-7275, email email@example.com, or visit http://www.hakc.org. Grandparents Support Network KC has a Facebook page and meets monthly at the Palestine Senior Citizens Activity Center.
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