“It’s just not right”: Seniors Stand Up to Luxury Developer at ComFest
Courtyard Estates is a seniors-only mobile home park by Graceland Shopping Center in Clintonville. These seniors did not plan on coming to ComFest this year, and with the unbelievable heat and humidity that’s gripped Columbus all month, there’s no doubt they would have preferred to stay home in the comfort of their AC. In fact, most doctors would strongly recommend seniors stay out of 90 degree weather, even in a city with better air quality and lower humidity than Columbus. But, if luxury apartment developer Preferred Living gets their way, this time next year more than a hundred seniors in Courtyard Estates and elsewhere may not have any shelter from the heat.
So, along with Sarah Legeza, co-chair of the Columbus Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), five Courtyard residents carefully climbed the stairs to the Jazz Stage, braving the heat to tell their stories.
Sarah spoke about the difficulties so many of us face finding affordable elder-care for our parents and grandparents. “You don’t make enough money to hire a caretaker, so what do you do?” At Courtyard Estates, proximity to the bus line, a pharmacy, grocery store, and an urgent care facility certainly helps. At around $300 a month in rent, living at Courtyard Estates is far more affordable than our city’s typical senior care facility. Far more important than all of that, though, Courtyard Estates is a thriving community where seniors help each other to live independently well into their retirement.
“I’ve had to make a home there. If I had to give that up, I don’t know what I’d do,” Betty Collier explained. Betty’s church, Beechwold Christian, is just a short walk from her home, helping her easily maintain a sense of belonging as she ages. When Betty’s son was sick, her neighbor would drive her to the hospital, and Betty checked in on him when he had surgery to treat his cancer, a small sample of the day-to-day neighborliness in a place Preferred Living had the nerve to call “blighted.”
While organizers were helping Joan prepare her speech, Ron, a veteran, dropped by unannounced. He went on to give the passionate closing speech that Sunday: “To have the rug pulled out from under you like this, it’s a pretty nasty feeling.” He explained the difficulties of moving a mobile home: these homes are “unsellable,” and nobody bought them thinking they’d have to worry about that. As Betty put it, Courtyard Estates was meant to be their “last home.” This was their plan for retirement. “I’m facing a $15,000 moving bill,” Ron explained. On fixed incomes, like Social Security, we know these seniors cannot afford the cost of relocating their mobile homes.
Ron continued: “When I first heard about this, I had trouble falling asleep for about two weeks. We’re talking about people anywheres from 55 to 92. A lot of them are a lot more worried than I am, especially the older ones… It’s just a rotten, raw deal. From what I understand Columbus is short of senior housing, as well as affordable housing. It just doesn’t make sense to evict 50 to 70 senior households so that you can move in a couple of a hundred ‘upwardly mobile people’ ..and [who] are able to move anywheres, actually.”
Recently at Dallas Mobile Home Village, a 55+ park near Upper Arlington, Preferred Living has already served the senior residents notice to vacate their lots by October. A quick visit to the property shows luxury apartments halfway built and at least a hundred low-income seniors — many in their 90s, facing homelessness and displacement — expected to find thousands of dollars to move their homes. As Ron put it, “Everybody out there, some day you’re all gonna be in our shoes.” One day we’ll all be old, it’s true, and not too many of us will be rich enough to live in $900/month single-bedroom apartments.
Much sooner than that, unless we take a stand here and now, there is little doubt that the Board of Zoning Adjustment, Preferred Living, and who-knows-how-many more cold-hearted luxury developers will not just demolish and eject these seniors but push out all low-income people in the city. Now is the time to take a stand. “They assume we’re just gonna fold and let them take over,” Joan said. “I don’t think that’s gonna happen.”
This post was originally published on Columbus DSA’s blog https://www.columbusdsa.org/2019/07/28/its-just-not-right-seniors-stand-up-to-luxury-developer-at-comfest/