A southern Brooklyn volunteer group’s good deed is shining a spotlight on the city’s senior housing crisis.
Bay Ridge Cares — a nonprofit organization built on supporting those in need — is currently recruiting volunteers to help pack up the apartment of Diana Murolo, a longtime resident of Bay Ridge senior housing facility Shore Hill who died in June at the age of 86.
The push comes at a time of hardship for Murolo’s daughter, 55. It also comes as an estimated 200,000 seniors citywide are still waiting for an apartment that they can afford.
The group’s president, Karen Tadross, first met Murolo in the lobby of the Bay Ridge senior housing facility, where the group dishes out Thanksgiving dinners each fall. Murolo was crying. She needed money to refill her pre-paid phone plan, so that she could contact her daughter, who lives out-of-state.
“It was a no-brainer,” Tadross told the Brooklyn Eagle. Bay Ridge Cares fronted the bill, and it was the beginning of a lasting relationship. “When I went and brought her the money, she had made me a bracelet as a thank you, because that’s what she could do.”
Then, it was a pair of earrings. Another time, Murolo gifted a butterfly button to a volunteer who had just lost both of her parents not too far apart from each other — and who’d considered the gift from Murolo a sign from her loved ones.
“We thought we were putting a smile on Diana’s face, when she was actually putting a smile on ours,” Tadross said.
She made an impact on the space in which she lived, as well. The home has been “amazing,” according to Tadross. (The three-building complex located at 9000 Shore Road changed hands late last year.)
“[Shore Hill has] been so lovely and understanding,” she told the Eagle. “They’ve allowed her daughter, Stephanie, to stay in the apartment while she sorts things out, and they’ve really given her plenty of time and support throughout the process. It’s really been a group effort to make things better for her family.”
But, with a decadelong waitlist to get into Shore Hill, Tadross said, it was time for Bay Ridge Cares to pitch in one more time for Murolo. The group requested one last extension and set up an online sign-up sheet, both to help Stephanie pack up, and to free up her room for another senior in need.
“Diana was on that waitlist for 17 years,” Tadross said. “She waited almost two decades to get into an apartment she could afford. Right now there is a 10-year waiting list to get in. There is a huge need for senior housing — not just in Brooklyn, but across the city.”
Looking closely at southern Brooklyn, where communities like Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights have long been considered naturally occurring retirement communities (or NORCs), Tadross stressed a lack of viable property to bridge the gaps.
“And sometimes, our seniors just don’t qualify,” she added, contending that those who make even one dollar above the qualifying rate are often left to fend for themselves.
“We could probably use another 2,000 apartments for seniors in this community alone,” she said.
These issues hit home for seniors citywide.
In 2016, LiveOn NY — a nonprofit group focused on aging — found that an estimated 200,000 seniors were on waiting lists for affordable housing throughout the five boroughs.
The group expanded upon the study in 2017, at which point they found that the wait time at Shore Hill is about standard. According to LiveOn NY, the average wait time is 10.6 years — and seniors can’t even get onto those lists until they’re 62.
The projections for the future are even worse. The group expects that the city’s senior population will increase by 47 percent by 2032.
Since 2014, the New York City Department of Housing and Preservation has financed 7,754 units of affordable housing for seniors under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Housing New York plan — 2,196 of which are in Brooklyn.
“Ensuring that this city’s seniors can continue to have access to high-quality housing that they can afford is a top priority for this administration, which is why the city has created over 7,700 affordable homes for seniors since 2014,” HPD spokesperson Matthew Creegan said. “Last year alone, the city spent approximately $95 million to finance 1,890 units of affordable senior housing, and we’re looking to push forward to do even more.”
But, 200,000 seniors are still waiting, according to the agency — the same total LiveON NY estimated back in 2016.
Bay Ridge Cares has until the 15th to free up Murolo’s apartment, but Tadross hopes that with helping hands, they can have everything out by the end of the week.
“We’re just doing our best,” she said. “For Diana.”