Wilton Life: Seniors search for affordable housing
Not every retiree wants to move south, but senior citizens looking for an affordable place to live in Fairfield County have limited options. Facilities that offer assisted living or nursing care tend to be expensive, and if you don’t need those services why pay for them?
For those seeking independent living, there are condominium communities that restrict ownership to those 55 and older, but that usually requires purchasing a unit and paying taxes and homeowner association fees. Sometimes leasing is an option.
Those looking to unburden themselves from owning a home and preferring to rent find fewer options still.
“There aren’t enough places and there are waiting lists of two years at the least,” said Cathy Pierce, director of Wilton Social Services. Ogden House, Wilton’s other senior housing, has a two- to three- year waiting list, she said.
That was the situation a number of women found themselves in before they moved into Wilton Commons. Six tenants — they prefer to be called tenants, not residents — in the recently opened senior rental building told their stories to The Bulletin earlier this week. All considered themselves extremely lucky to move into apartments at 21 Station Road.
Kathleen McAuliffe was living in a cottage in Georgetown earlier this year when it became apparent her husband needed to be moved to a nursing home. She found herself living alone “literally for the first time in my life,” she said.
In May, her landlord notified her he needed the cottage for family members and she would have to leave by July 15.
“I was in a panic,” she said. “I called neighbors, towns” and then someone at the Wilton Senior Center suggested Wilton Commons. She filled out an application and was accepted.
“I was in by the 5th of July,” she said. “It felt like I had an angel on my shoulders.” She saw no other possibilities and living with one of her four children was not an option for the recent retiree.
Fran DiPietro was in a different bind. She had owned a condo in Wilton for a dozen or so years, but since retiring two years ago she was finding her home too expensive due to taxes and monthly fees.
“Three and a half years ago I talked with Cathy Pierce,” she said. She asked Ms. DiPietro if she’d like to put her name in for Wilton Commons. Last year, Ms. DiPietro received a letter inviting her to fill out an application.
“They took me in. I was really happy,” she said.
Ms. DiPietro wanted to stay in Wilton and she did not explore other options.
“I kept paying, my savings was going down,” she said, “and then this came up so quickly my mind was made up.
“It’s so nice to know there are people here, there’s safety, if anything happens someone is around.”
JoAnn Massari was also living in Wilton and wanted to stay. She has been widowed a long time and was living with her son and his family for the past five years. The house is on a dead end and isolated.
“The grandkids grew up, my son and his wife were working — I wanted to be with my peers,” she said.
In a way she has the best of both worlds, being close to her family and among people her own age.
She was not actively looking for a new place to live when her son saw Wilton Commons being built. “I didn’t have to move out,” she said, but realized “this was the place to be.”
Jean Polio was the first to move in on May 5, coming from out of state.
“I lived in New Jersey all my life, but it got to be too costly,” she said. “I knew I had to do something. I started looking five years ago in New Jersey. There was a seven-year wait. I sent applications to other places in Connecticut. There was a three-year wait.”
She was visiting one of her children six years ago — she has a son in Darien and a daughter in Fairfield — and she heard about Wilton Commons. “I put my name on a list,” she said. “I didn’t think it would happen.”
Being the first to move in she said, “I was lonesome. I thought, ‘I’ll never make a friend here.’ Then I met these lovely ladies and I’m very happy.”
Also coming from New Jersey was Erma Potter, whose daughter, who lives in Norwalk, heard about Wilton Commons.
“I was too far away from my children,” she said. She had been living in a senior community and no longer wanted the responsibility of her own apartment.
Moving into a one-bedroom apartment — as they all are at Wilton Commons — from a home is not easy as Civita Russo discovered. She and her husband John moved to Wilton in 1977, but found they could no longer keep up with their 12-room house.
She read about Wilton Commons in The Bulletin, and although she was interested her friends tried to dissuade her.
“It was very scary,” she said of her situation. “They said ‘be careful, it’s a government place’” and she worried it might not be safe or well maintained.
The couple lived briefly in Stamford and New Canaan, but could not find an affordable rental. Then she visited Wilton Commons.
“We got in,” she said, “and I’m very happy to be here.”
The women, who range in age from their mid-60s to mid-80s,” are thankful they found Wilton Commons.
“I have no idea where I would be,” Ms. McAuliffe said if she were not in Wilton Commons. “Other places had two- to three-year waiting lists.”
“My kids said they would take me,” Ms. DiPietro said, but they all said none of them wanted to do that.
“This is one of a kind,” Ms. Polio said of Wilton Commons. “It’s the cream of the crop.”
None of them, they said, could afford to move into an assisted living facility, “nor do we need it.”
The apartments are perfect for one person,” Ms. McAuliffe said. “It takes 45 minutes to clean.”
Ms. Russo misses her big kitchen but Ms. DiPietro said, “I love my kitchen. I wouldn’t have moved here if it wasn’t that big and had the appliances it has. I have plenty of workspace.”
The women plan their own activities but said the residents are in the process of forming a tenant association.
They appreciate the many activities in town — from Silver Sneakers at the YMCA to events at Wilton Library and the Wilton Senior Center — but it is a long walk into town and all of them still rely on having a car to get around. They also use Dial-A-Ride and have found Norwalk Transit’s Route 7 Link bus that will take them from Stop & Shop to the Danbury Fair Mall. They are hesitant to take the train from the station just a short walk away because of concerns about changing trains in South Norwalk. Instead, they drive to stations directly on the New Haven line.
Rents at Wilton Commons are based on income levels referred to as tiers.
Sixteen units are at Tier 1. The monthly rent is $1,360. Applicants may have incomes starting at $42,700.01 up to a maximum of $51,240 for one person, or a minimum of $48,800.01 to $61,680 for two people. There are units available at this level.
Twenty-six units are at Tier II and have a monthly rent of $1,119. Applicants may have incomes starting at $21,350.01 up to a maximum of $42,700 for one person or a minimum of $24,400.01 to $48,800 for two people. There are no units currently available at this level but applications are being taken for a waiting list.
There are eight units at Tier III with a monthly rent of $517. Applicants may have a maximum income of $21,350 for one person or $24,400 for two people. There is a waiting list for these apartments and no applications are being accepted at this time.
There are no monthly common charges. Rent includes water, hot water, sewer, taxes, trash removal, maintenance, a 24-hour emergency call system, secure entry system, landscaping and snow removal. Residents are responsible for their own phone, cable and electric bills.
Applications are overseen by Mutual Housing Association of Southwestern Connecticut and are available at the organization’s office at 63 Stillwater Avenue, Stamford, CT 06902 or online at mhaswct.org.