Heights Manor, much like subsidized senior housing across the state, is being pulled apart by a recent influx of younger people with mental disabilities, who are being forced by a tight rental market and a shortage of affordable apartments to live with the elderly. Statewide, the percentage of disabled people in public housing increased 24 percent between 2009 and 2012, the last year for which data are available, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
The mix of elderly and younger disabled populations can be volatile. At Heights Manor, elderly residents have complained of an increase of physical threats, drug use, thefts, loud music, late-night parties, and disorderly behavior. Over the past year, calls to local police have risen enough that residents have set up a neighborhood watch program — something they would have considered unthinkable not long ago.
Not reported to the police, however, are the everyday clashes occurring as elderly people used to living among people like them seek to enforce building rules on the newcomers. In some cases, the younger disabled people feel discriminated against by the older residents.
Disability advocates say such tensions are likely to intensify as the state moves forward with ambitious plans to further desegregate housing for the disabled. Under pressure from the federal courts, which recently admonished the state for not moving quickly enough to integrate disabled people into the community, state and local authorities are preparing to move thousands of people with mental and physical disabilities from group homes and other institutional settings to individual apartments.