Eighteen months ago, we closed the waiting list for our Los Robles Apartments on West Flagler Street, with 300 names on it. With little turnover, it made no sense to see how big a list we could maintain.
Today, those applicants along with our current seniors may be at risk of any chance of a decent home thanks to the much-reported January 1 fiscal cliff, a combination of across-the-board budget cuts and major tax hikes. If Congress and the administration cant develop a new deficit reduction plan, the money that helps us house the 115 residents of Los Robles will be dramatically affected.
Los Robles is one of four properties for seniors in the Miami area operated by Volunteers of America of Florida. It is a privately owned apartment complex and offers seniors a safe and well-maintained home thats supported through Section 8 Project-Based funding. That means Volunteers of America agreed to provide affordable apartments for low-income elderly and disabled residents in return for a government contract to pay part of the rent needed to operate the property. Our seniors earn on average less than $11,000 annually. They pay 30 percent of their income toward the rent.
Our residents can live independently because Volunteers of America provides or coordinates the support services they require, whether its transportation to the local grocery store or daily visits by a home health aide or medication management and liaison to government agencies. Galvanized by that huge waiting list, the staff of Los Robles also developed an outreach program called Embracing Communities. Staff and resident volunteers donate time to help those on the waiting list with support services like computer labs and financial counseling.
If Congress and the administration fail to reach agreement, the proposed spending cuts will jeopardize affordable housing for almost 740,000 families in Section 8 Project-Based housing nationwide. More than half of those apartments 400,000 are home to elderly or disabled Americans who have no place else to go. Properties like Los Robles are critical to meeting the commitment we have made to our nations seniors in a cost-effective manner.
The cuts also would harm the communities that properties like Los Robles serve. The property provides jobs for its employees and contractors and pays local taxes and fees. Its a virtuous cycle: We invest in apartment complexes that enable hundreds of our elderly and disabled citizens to live independently, in the process creating jobs and helping sustain Miami and Miami-Dade County.
More importantly, there is the human cost. Take Nelly Benitez. Shes 88. Born and raised in Cuba. A homemaker, immigrated to the United States in 1967. Worked a series of low-paying jobs in New York City, California and Florida. A widow who moved here 22 years ago. No family to rely on. Her only plan for leaving Los Robles: When I die.
Nelly says she doesnt understand details of the fiscal cliff, but she hopes Congress keep her and her friends at Los Robles in mind.
Janet Stringfellow is chief of ddministration at Volunteers of America of Florida, and Ileana Suarez is the property manager at Los Robles Apartments.