Grandfamily Housing

Grandparents get a place of their own to raise grandchildren

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Many grandparents who get custody of their grandchildren live in studio or one-bedroom apartments on a minimal income.

They often have to raise their grandchildren on short notice and under difficult circumstances, whether it’s because of abuse or neglect of the child or death or incarceration of the parents.

Life is about to get easier for at least a handful of these grandparents, thanks to a housing development targeted specifically at grandfamilies that’s due to open next year in Kansas City.

The development will begin construction in September on a parcel owned by the Housing Authority of Kansas City and is expected to have 36 units — 26 apartments with three or four bedrooms and 10 with two bedrooms.

There is already grandfamily housing in at least a half dozen cities across the country — including Boston, New York, Georgia and Minnesota — and the national Department of Housing and Urban Development is taking applications for $4 million in grant funds to be awarded for construction of more units.

"There’s been a great deal of interest," said Donna Butts, executive director of Generations United, a nonprofit entity that advocates for grandfamilies. "People are becoming aware of the needs of the families and learning from the successes that, in particular, New York is having."

According to the 2000 census, there are roughly 4.5 million children being raised by grandparents in 2.5 million households. There’s thought to be about 64,000 children being raised by grandparents in the Kansas City area.

The new development, named Pemberton Park, is being created by Parkville-based affordable-housing developer Cougar Capital with the help of Affordable Housing Kansas City and Family Friends, a support system for grandfamilies that’s based at Children’s Mercy Hospital.

The development is aimed to reduce the burden of parenting on grandparents by building it within walking distance of a medical clinic, a daycare center, grocery and other stores, and a bus line. Each unit will have a washer and dryer, and there will be regular support meetings for the grandparents to trade advice and find adult companionship.

There also will be educational services to support grandparents who find themselves having to help out with homework.

"I did it the way I was taught to do it," said Wilma Howard, of Liberty, who’s raising two grandchildren. "It seems like everything has changed. The math is different now. You have to show how to get the answer."

Grandfamily housing has gone over particularly well in New York, which provided the inspiration for the Kansas City project.

The New York development, which opened in 2005, features 24-hour security and a team of social workers, tutors and counselors available for the 50 families living there. Most of the children at the development have done well in school and socially, according to David Taylor, executive director of Presbyterian Senior Services.

"There is a lot less stress in their environment," he said. "I think overall they’re pleased with the progress their grandchildren are making. They’re gaining skills in terms of raising the kids."

— The Associated Press

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