Independent Living in the Hamptons

Ken Moran, a veteran with over 40 years working for newspapers, is one of the lucky ones. He won a lottery for an apartment in the newly-opened St. Michael’s Senior Housing complex in Amagansett. Kathy Byrnes, chairperson of the East Hampton Food Pantry, co-manager of Windmill II and superintendent of the St. Michael’s, (she lives at St. Michael’s with her husband and son and two dogs) suggests that “independent living with supportive services” is a better term for St. Michael’s subsidized rentals. In fact, both St. Michael’s and Windmill II have a Social Services Coordinator on board (Toni Lind at St. Michael’s) who looks after medical and domestic concerns, ensuring that tenants need not be transferred to costly nursing homes. Some residents are not fully retired, others work as volunteers, but all meet the low-income criteria of the $6 million grant which Byrnes helped write (the rest of the $11 million project is funded by way of tax credits). The idea, she says, is that “people in their golden years” such as Marie Errigo, 77, should not have to worry about how to survive. A former tenant of the Mobile Home Park in East Hampton, Errigo saw her monthly rent go from $320 several years ago to over $800 for the land alone (she owned her trailer). Now, another lucky one, she pays $279 a month for her “cute little apartment” at St. Michael’s and volunteers at the Food Pantry. She doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry at her good fortune, but it’s clear that St. Michael’s has been her salvation.

Out of 300 applications for St. Michael’s received, 138 were accepted, and of these approximately 75-80, “time stamped and dated,” met the criteria. Then, 40 names were selected at random. Eligibility depends on residing in Suffolk County, being at least 62 years old (Windmill I is for “age 62 and/or disabled 18 and up, Windmill II is for 55 and up or disabled 18 and up”) and having an annual income of no more than $37,100 or $42,400 a couple (there are only three couples at St. Michael’s and Windmill). The overwhelming number of residents are older women (“the new singles,” we call them, says senior housing manager Gerry Mooney). Michael DeSario, president of St. Michael’s Housing Associates, notes that residents pay no more than 30% of their income in rent—at. St. Michael’s the average income is $14,000 ($12,000 at Windmill). This is a strikingly low figure, but HUD requires that poverty-level applicants take priority over low-income applicants, Byrnes and Mooney explain. Extensive background checks (financial and criminal), both federal and state investigations, are performed on all applicants, they add.

Moran looks around his new home, suitcase still on dolly—it’s just what he wanted, a sunny, second-floor one-bedroom apartment with a balcony (each apartment is 600 square feet) with an ample blond wood kitchen (fridge and stove supplied) that extends into a dining-room area. “I’m facing the ocean, I’ll get a breeze” (units come equipped with AC and baseboard heating). He’s thinking of marking off a dining space, though he understands that if he leaves, he’d have to restore everything to its original state, but it’s unlikely he’ll move. The complex, which sits on two and a half acres, out of five donated by the St. Michael’s Lutheran Church, includes five houses plus a large community building containing a laundry and events room. Byrnes and her family live on the second floor.

All the apartments are attractive and secure, white, light-suffused on the inside and neat shingled façades with a triangular roof of slatted horizontals outside, giving a clean, well-designed look. It’s the bathrooms that astound—huge and wheelchair accessible. DeSario points out that HUD requires that “only 10% of such senior apartments be handicapped constructed and that elevators in senior housing are mandated only for floors five and above. In the event that his residents need assistance, “they will be moved to the first available first-floor apartment.” DeSario adds that studies of senior apartments in the city where residents live on floors other than the first, show that they “seemed to remain healthier than those on a first floor” and liked the challenge of climbing stairs.

The spirit of community grows, no doubt under the inspiration of the Rev. Katrina Foster of St. Michael’s. Byrnes notes that she just bought a complete kitchen on Bonac Yard Sales for the community building. Any carpenters out there? Anyone who’d like to donate trees for the seeded lawn? If so, contact
Kathyb162@gmail.com.

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