Seniors in affordable housing vulnerable to coronavirus

Davetta Brooks lives in a building for low-income seniors on Chicago's Near West Side. Residents are not wearing masks or gloves to guard against the coronavirus, she said: "They're touching everything on the elevator, in the laundry room. And anybody and everybody's relatives and friends are coming in and out with no scrutiny."

(Kaiser Health News)Davetta Brooks, 75, who has heart failure, a fractured hip and macular degeneration, is afraid. Conditions in her low-income senior building on Chicago's Near West Side — the Congressman George W. Collins Apartments — are "deplorable," she said.

Residents are not wearing masks or gloves to guard against the coronavirus, she said: "They're touching everything on the elevator, in the laundry room. And anybody and everybody's relatives and friends are coming in and out with no scrutiny."
No one is checking on residents to see if they need help, Brooks said. And no one seems to know whether residents have tested positive for Covid-19 or died, though ambulances have screeched up to the entrance several times.
    "This building is not safe," she said in mid-June. "With all the things happening in the US, this is what 'seniors lives don't matter' looks like."
      Nationwide, more than 1.6 million older adults live in low-income housing subsidized by the Department of Housing and Urban Development — most in apartment buildings with shared common spaces, elevators, staircases, mailrooms, hallways and laundry rooms where the coronavirus might lurk.
      Most of these seniors have endured a life of disadvantage, have chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease, and lack financial reserves to draw upon.
      Yet in the midst of the pandemic, this population — the age group deemed most at risk of becoming critically ill and dying — has largely been overlooked.
        "This is a moment when we really should be pushing assistance and guidance toward these senior communities, but we're not," said Linda Couch, vice president of housing for LeadingAge, an association that represents nonprofit senior housing and long-term care providers. "No one is watching over what's happening."
        Nationally there is no data on Covid-19's spread in low-income housing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is not collecting it or requiring states to do so. The same is true of HUD and state and local housing agencies: This is "independent living," and operators are not expected to monitor the health of residents.
        Low-income housing operators find out about Covid cases only when residents or family members volunteer the information. For the most part, systematic testing is not done. A rare exception: Gov. Andrew Cuomo in mid-May announced plans to bring coronavirus testing to 40 public housing developments in New York.