By: Marisa Herman Associate Editor
Dorothy Ellington said she receives calls daily from people who need a place to live.
As president and CEO of the Delray Beach Housing Authority, the calls are part of her job.
Recently, she said the types of calls she noticed coming in were from a different kind of family, one where grandparents were finding themselves raising their grandchildren.
To help, the organization, which helps low and moderate income families receive housing, decided to designate the apartments above their new offices to these types of families. To do so, Ellington said the agency created a grandparents raising grandchildren preference.
“We analyzed our waiting list and saw there were number of families composed of older residents caring for their minor grandchildren,” she said.
Part of the reason for the request for help, she said, is because seniors were not qualifying for senior housing because of the children they were caring for. Senior housing is reserved for seniors.
“Historically, it has been unusual for people this age to have children,” she said. “This is an unusual situation, the grandparent raising the grandchildren. We were getting these calls and found out we had quite a few of these families on the waiting list. We determined there is a need.”
It is a growing need not only locally. Nationwide, 2.7 million grandparents are raising grandchildren, and about one-fifth of those have incomes that fall below the poverty line, according to census figures. And their ranks are increasing. The number of grandparents raising grandchildren is up 7 percent from 2009.
Of the grandparents caring for grandchildren, 21 percent live below the poverty line, according to Generations United. About 39 percent are over 60 and 26 percent have a disability. And because many are not licensed in the system, they are not eligible for the same services and financial support as licensed foster parents.
There is currently a bill “Supporting Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Act” making its way through Congress to help address the issue.
She said grandparents are stepping in when their children can’t care for their own children. She said the reasons vary from mental health illness to incarceration to military deployment. They would rather raise their grandchildren than put the child in foster care.
“A lot of the time it has to do with parents who are not able to take care about their children for whatever reason and the grandparents having to step in rather than having the children go to foster care,” she said. “They would much rather a family member themselves take care of the children rather than allow a stranger to take care of their grandchildren.”
In one unit a grandfather is raising his granddaughter and in the other a grandmother is raising her granddaughter, Ellington said.
“They are lovely people,” she said. “I am happy for having the facility to serve them. It makes me really happy. It gives me joy.”
In order to qualify for these apartments, grandparents must present documentation that they have legal guardianship or legal custody; that they are the grandparents (birth certificates, or some form of proof linking them to the grandchild) and that their income does not exceed 80 percent of the area median income, adjusted for family size. The median area income for Palm Beach County is $67,900.