Housing for the Elderly

By Elisabeth Lopukhin

Today a growing problem is the question of housing for the elderly. Some parishes might already have property which had been willed or donated, which is conveniently located near the church and which could be converted into “low-income” or “subsidized” housing. However, many people prefer not to attempt to live on their own, or with their children, but seek a ready-made arrangement. “Homes for Adults” or “Old Age Homes” (as opposed to the medical setting of Skilled Nursing or Health Related Facilities) are institutions where residents are sheltered, fed, given some attention and supervision, yet can remain and feel quite independent. The OCA’s Saint Cosmas and Damian Home on Staten Island, N.Y. is such an adult home that answers to the needs of many.

To some, a small family-like home, within walking distance of the church provides a better alternative. Besides preventing the need to uproot geographically and socially, the residents can remain active parish members. Having been freed of the responsibilities of maintaining their own household, they can attend all services, read, sing, bake prosfora, help with church mailings, serve at a parish children’s day care center, etc. “Being needed” is a particularly sensitive issue for this age group, consequently participation in all church activities, projects and celebrations becomes a very natural outlet.

small houses could be a real possibility for larger parishes. Many such homes are operated quite profitably by private individuals who earn $10-25,000 yearly. If a parish operated such a home, with some volunteer help or even with hired help, some or all of the profit would be theirs.

The homes of course need to be licensed. Regulations for operating them vary from state to state and from county to county. In New York, the Department of Social Services (Division of Adult Services) is contacted to get information regarding the criteria to be met for both operator and building. Once established, periodic inspections are conducted by state, county, and local authorities.

How This Type of Home Is Operated

I have spoken with an owner/operator of such a home in New York State. The larger, older, two-story house situated on a quiet suburban street has a small garden and a porch. (Such a house could have been donated or willed. All too often, after a person dies, the home is left to children living far away who need neither the house nor the income from its sale). A few structural modifications were required to comply with the code: fire escape, smoke detectors, sprinklers, enclosed stairwell. Five residents live on the ground floor, and five on the second. Each person is provided with a bed, desk, chair, a chest of drawers and a closet. Persona furniture may be kept within reason. Both floors have a full bathroom and the ground floor one also has a shower.

Since the residents are expected to have 24 hour supervision, a housemother is required. It works out best if she lives at the home, but whether she does or does not, back-up personnel is also necessary to relieve her. Another person is hired to do the cleaning of the whole house once a week. Bedding and laundry services are provided. Three hot meals, eaten together in the dining room, are cooked by the housemother; snacks are available at all times. A licensed dietitian is consulted on the menus which change with the seasons. All food is “low salt.” The house mother is responsible for the well-being of the residents.

Besides a housemother, there must also be a licensed administrator of the home. In this instance the administrator is also the owner of the home, although the administrator can be a hired person as well. The administrator is mandated by state law to provide 20 hours a week of direct care to the home and is required to receive a certain amount of yearly “in-service” training to maintain the license. (Again each state has its criteria for licensing.) The administrator sees that the home runs smoothly, that regulations are followed, that programs are carried out. He/she deals with any problems of the home or of the residents as they arise.

A program of activities is mandated; this home has a small library, a radio, stereo with records and a TV in the common room. Assistance is provided to get to the nearby church. Because of the home-like setting, the needs of the ten residents for recreation and activity are attended to individually rather than on a structured fashion of a larger home. Shopping expeditions are organized; volunteers come to read and talk with the residents. An agreement is made with a doctor to come to the home once a month, while visits to medical specialists are arranged as needed.


Although In New York State there is no mandated limit on charges to private paying guests, this home charges $850 monthly. For those who have no private means, the Supplementary Security Income (SSI) program adds to the Social Security Pension to meet the specified rate of $650 a month in this particular county for non-private paying residents. These funds also provides $83 a month to the resident for spending money. A rough approximation of the budget shows an income of $78,000 yearly with the following expenses:

Food $12,000
Housekeeping salaries 20,000
Utilities 6,750
Maintenance, Repairs & Taxes 14,250
Profit (as property is paid for, and administrator is owner) 25,000

Such a project can be very worthwhile and feasible for a parish in that it does not require a big outlay of capital. It would be a source of employment for younger seniors, and for students on a part-time basis. It would be a “Christian business” that is “spiritually profit-making” as well.

For further details, contact Elisabeth Lopukhin

Department of Senior Life Ministry
Orthodox Church in America
Box 675
Syosset, NY 11791

For Discussion:

1. What kind of housing for the elderly is available in your area?

2. Would there be an interest and/or a need to develop housing possibilities for the elderly, undertaken by the parish or an interested parishioner as in the case presented?

3. What do you see as the advantages of church-supported housing? What problems might arise?

Elisabeth Lopukhin is the Social Services Coordinator at the Tolstoy Foundation Nursing Home in Valley Cottage, N.Y. She is also an Executive Committee member of the OCA Department of Senior Life and Ministry.