New support for grandparents raising kids

Cities start to dedicate housing to these families

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Cities across the country are starting to recognize the need to offer financial assistance to grandparents raising grandchildren.

The city of Newark, N.J., in March became the latest municipality to do just that, when the City Council approved a $525,000 loan to build a housing development for seniors raising their grandchildren. The Newark Star-Ledger reported the project is believed to be the first of its kind in the city.

Although the newspaper reported that Boston has been at the forefront of the movement — the city used a combination of public money and private donations to build a $4 million housing complex in 1997 for grandparents raising their grandchildren — awareness of the problem has only intensified more recently.

According to AARP, 4.5 million children are being raised in households headed by grandparents, and another 1.5 million in households headed by other relatives. Of those 6 million, AARP research shows that 2.5 million children are without their parents.

And it isn’t just the elderly raising the kids. AARP data showed that the average age of a first-time grandparent is 48, and the average age of grandparents raising children falls into the 50- to 59-year-old group — a time when many older adults are preparing for retirement.

More social challenges have disrupted the traditional grandparent relationship. Substance abuse, HIV/AIDS, incarceration, death, and financial difficulties are all contributing factors to the changing dynamic of grandparents and relatives serving as caregivers.

Deborah Whitley, the director of the National Center on Grandparents Raising Grandchildren, a research center at the University of Georgia, told the Star-Ledger that one of the biggest challenges for grandparents is finding affordable housing. Fortunately, she said, politicians are reacting.

“Finding accommodations that serve both of these needs at the same time is a trend that is being addressed across the nation,” Whitley said.

In Chicago, the nonprofit Renaissance Collaborative is helping to develop a “senior campus” in the city that will feature three buildings: an affordable apartment building for seniors, an assisted-living building, and an apartment building for grandfamilies.

“Seniors have needs and kids have needs. But they all need a supportive environment,” Patricia Abrams, executive director of Renaissance Collaborative, told the Chicago Tribune.

Similar housing has been built in Los Angeles and New York.