Griot Village!

Today I’ve been visiting Griot Village in Cleveland, a 40 unit development that was specially built to house grandparents age 55 and over with legal custody of their grandchildren. The project was developed in partnership by Fairfax Renaissance Development Corporation (FRDC) and Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) at a cost of $12m.

There are over 7000 grandparents in Cleveland looking after grandchildren and 55% of these live in the Fairfax district. FRDC became aware of the problem and obtained funding to carry out further research. They found that grandparents struggled with looking after much younger grandchildren physically and financially. In addition, they were excluded from many housing options, such as senior housing, because they were looking after young children.

Over a period of 6 years FRDC applied for funding (a mixture of Tax Credits, grant funding and private finance) to build the development in partnership with CMHA which opened around 5 years ago.

I was lucky enough today to speak with a variety of residents, both old and young, as well as different staff members who are involved in running the development. The key theme that came through, as with every intergenerational housing project I’ve visited so far, was that of being one big family and a united community. ‘We all just help each other and look out for each other’ one resident told me. I asked if this type of intergenerational setting made a difference and the resounding answer was yes. It helps both the grandparents and grandkids to have others in a similar situation to them, so they have people around them who understand what they are going through. Of course it also helps their financial situation as residents only pay 30% of their income in rent with the rest being made up in housing vouchers. Having safe, good quality accommodation, near schools and shops is also a big help.

I met Jaziah – an amazing 16 year old who, despite a traumatic background, is studying at college and wants to be an FBI agent. He’s already completed FBI summer school! He also dances, acts, plays music and gets good grades. His grandmother told me how he wouldn’t have done so well without the after school programs that are run at the village and due to all the support he gets from staff who have put on courses and special activities.

The amount of support from staff is amazing! I spoke with Angela the case manager for the Village and a trained social worker. She does all the intake assessments and meets families yearly (at least) to gather info on what their needs are. She then develops 1-2-1 or group activities based on what they need or would like including grief counselling, art therapy, jewellery making and cooking classes. She told me she works 20 hours a week but is only contracted for 6 because she loves it so much. She feels working in an intergenerational setting benefits her personally as she gets great satisfaction from helping both age groups – ‘it’s great because I can do stuff with the grandparents in the morning and with the kids in the afternoon, as well as getting them althogether so I have the best of both worlds’.

The Village was planned with input from residents of both ages and that perhaps accounts for why it works so well – Denise VanLeer from FRDC told me how they consulted a lot with potential residents before the project started to get an idea of what grandparents and kids wanted. They also future proofed the Village so there are some units that are all on one level so families can transfer as grandparents’ mobility declines. Also, across the street is a senior independent living facility so grandparents can transition over the road if they wish so they don’t need to leave their community.

A playground has been added recently for the children in partnership with Kaboom! They help raise funds for, and build, play areas for children. One resident told me ‘ it was great. There were over 300 people here an it was built in a day. We all got together to help clear the ground and we all cooked for the volunteers – even all the kids joined in too.’ Again, what was nice was that he playground was planned and designed in proper consultation with residents (although one girl was upset they didn’t add a swimming pool!)

It’s been a lovely day today and has further cemented my thinking so far on how to successfully do intergenerational housing….

1. Ensure you have a purpose and are clear on the type of community you want to build and why.

2. Ensure you have the right staff in place – in terms of qualifications, willingness and personality – without this it will not work.

3. You have the right residents – this type of living is not suited to everyone so you need to ensure residents want to be part of one big community who will look out for and help each other.

4. Planning – your future residents must be involved in the planning and design. Plus you need to think about the future and how you will transition on seniors or children as they get older.

Now off to bed!

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