HARTFORD, CONN.—Children swarm the back porches at Hartford Grandfamily Housing Development, which provides a place to live as well as services to grandparents that are raising their own grandchildren.
“You can look right out the window and see them,” says Deborah Fowlkes, who lives at the site with her three granddaughters. She appreciates the way her neighbors help keep an eye on the children. “That means a lot—when you know your kids are safe,” she explains.
The U.S. Census counts 2,100 grandparent- headed households in Hartford alone—but that's just the grandfamilies that identify themselves as such on the Census questionnaire. Mayor Eddie Perez thinks the real number could be as much as three times that.
Completed in September 2007, Hartford Grandfamily provides 24 twoto four-bedroom apartments for grandparents who have taken legal custody of their grandchildren. Another 16 onebedroom apartments in the top two floors of a refurbished historic school building next door are restricted to seniors.
The mix of small and large apartments will allow grandparents to move to smaller units after their grandchildren move out.
In the meantime, Hartford Grandfamily provides services to help the grandparents—mostly single grandmothers— raise the 60 grandchildren aged between 2 and 18 who live here.
Nonprofit developer Community Renewal Team, Inc. (CRT), which provides services such as tutoring and counseling for children and seniors across Connecticut, waited for years to win a stream of operating subsidy to support a grandfamily development.
Most of the residents earn between 25 percent and 50 percent of the area median income. Project-based Sec. 8 rental subsidies ensure that none of the total 40 households pay more than a third of their income on rent, no matter how small that income is.
CRT pays for a part-time activities director for the children and a social worker assigned specifically to the grandfamilies with help from grants from the state Department of Social Services and a $30,000 grant from the Noble Trust, a private foundation. Another services specialist works with the 16 seniors households not raising grandchildren.
The children also receive tutoring through CRT's early literacy program, which uses certified teachers and is funded by the federal No Child Left Behind program. There's also a property manager on-site 20 hours per week and a full-time maintenance person.
The old school building has 9,000 square feet of first-floor community space with offices, a party space, a kitchenette, and two large recreation rooms supplied with age-appropriate games, art supplies, and computers.
There's also a substation for Hartford police officers working their beats in the neighborhood, so that from 6 p.m. to the early morning there is often a police officer nearby. The police provide mentoring and activities like basketball for Hartford Grandfamily's children.
All these support services are expensive, but they may prove to be a bargain in the long run if they can help the grandchildren here do well in school and stay out of trouble.
Of the 16 teenage boys living here, 10 had already been involved in the criminal justice system before they moved in and would likely have been incarcerated sometime in the future without help and guidance, says Carmen Stanford, who provides counseling to these teens for CRT. She is planning on helping several apply to college this fall.
“The reason these kids are settled is they have a structured community,” says Stanford. “The whole community is watching. They notice everything.”