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"Seniors Have Their Say" Sunday Boston Globe

Published on JULY 2, 2006



Seniors have their say in housing design

New building near Bromley-Heath

By Dave Demerjian


            "When you've lived in the same apartment for 51 years, you get some ideas about how things should be," said 84-year-old Gladys Facey, a longtime tenant in the Bromley-Heath housing development.

            So when the Bromley-Heath Tenant Management Corporation joined in developing 55 apartments for low-income seniors, it picked Facey and 16 other residents to advise them on how the new apartments on Bickford Street should look and feel.

            Project architect Stephen Tise said the advisory team members, almost all over age 60, frequently challenged conventional wisdom about senior housing.

            When the developers proposed carpet for the building, for instance, the group balked, explaining that tile or linoleum would reduce allergies and be easier to clean.

"Older folks, they shake and spill," said committee member Julia Martin, 77, the building's namesake, in an interview in the new facility's lobby.

            The committee also suggested open kitchens with low cabinets and high counters for the apartments, a joint project of the Bromley-Heath tenants group and the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation.

            "People need surfaces to lean on as they move around," said 60 year-old Bernell Stuart, another committee member. "That's why you make the counters higher."

            Jen Faigel, the Jamaica Plain organization's community development director, said the advisory group's influence can be seen throughout the four-story structure, which features easy-to-open windows, emergency pull-cords in every bathroom, laundry rooms on every floor, and large swaths of common space designed to promote community.

            The seniors also pushed for more ways to help the disabled live independently. Architect Tise spent time in the apartment of 78 year-old Marcia Langford, a committee member who uses a wheelchair, watching her navigate the bathroom and kitchen. "There is a big difference between what the manuals tell you and the reality," Tise said of designing for people with disabilities.

            The new building, at 90 Bickford St. on the edge of Bromley Heath, replaces a senior housing structure that was closed in the 1980's due to persistent heating problems and demolished in 2000.

            This is not the first time Bromley-Heath Tenant Management and Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development have collaborated. The nonprofit organizations joined forces to build the Stop & Shop supermarket and the Martha Elliot Health Center that opened next door to Bromley-Heath in 1996.

            Residents of the new building, selected by a lottery open to those age 62 and older who meet income requirements, have started moving into its one-bedroom apartments, and Faigel said the majority of units are rented. Six apartments are reserved for the homeless and five for those with disabilities. All are subsidized with federal, state and city funds, and foundation donations.

            The building is named for Martin, a longtime Bromley Heath resident who coordinates the development's Senior Wellness Center and who will maintain an office in the new facility. She said its opening is the realization of a long-held dream.

            "I wanted something in this neighborhood just for the seniors," she said.

            Activities will include exercise programs, coffee hours, arts and crafts, community meals, and game nights. Maria Mulkeen, who oversaw the construction as project manager for the neighborhood group, added that many of these services will be available to all Bromley Heath seniors and community residents.

            While developers and architects often collaborate with an advisory committee, Tise said, this group was especially successful. "There was a real chemistry between the whole team," he said.

            The feeling is mutual, according to Martin. "Steve Tise did a beautiful job," she said. "He created the beautiful building that he wanted."

            "Actually," Tise said, correcting her, "we created the building we wanted."