Wayne State University

Aim Higher

News and Announcements

Wayne State social work researcher receives funding to help Detroit's displaced seniors

March 17, 2015


A geriatrics researcher at the Wayne State School of Social Work has received $10,000 to study seniors’ experiences with forced relocation as part of an initiative to preserve older adults’ access to housing during the revitalization of Detroit.

Assistant Professor Tam Perry received the funding from the John A. Hartford Foundation's ChangeAGEnts Action Award for her study, “Post-Move Follow-Up Project,” which will track 100 older adults who were recently displaced from a building in downtown Detroit. Using open-ended interviews and measures of stress and post-traumatic stress disorder, Perry will seek to assess the impacts of the move.

According to Perry, understanding the relationship between urban relocation, health, and well-being is critical to helping Detroit’s senior population realize the promise of a “new” Detroit. Over the next decade, more than 2,000 older adults living in the city are expected to be involuntary displaced as HUD-subsidized senior housing units are converted to market-rate apartments. Research on the physical, mental, emotional, financial and logistical needs of these older adults, as well as the social networks available to them are vital. This data can then assist city leaders in devising policies and allocating resources to help seniors who are forced to find new homes.

Perry, who is working with School of Social Work graduate students, as well as the St. Aloysius Church and United Community Housing Coalition, developed the study as a member of the Senior Housing Preservation-Detroit (SHP-D) coalition. SHP-D is a group of foundations, service organizations, faith leaders and advocates concerned about gentrification, and particularly the impending expiration of federally subsidized housing contracts for low-income seniors, across the city. The coalition is currently exploring possibilities for nonprofits to purchase affected buildings to retain them for their occupants, while also endorsing the provision of appropriate services – such as subsidized relocation costs and voluntary counseling – for those whose housing cannot be preserved.

Because the conversion of low-income senior housing to market rate is occurring in many American cities, Perry’s research has the potential to influence policy across the country. The “Post-Move Follow-Up Project” has been presented to the Society for Social Work Research, the Gerontological Society of America, and the National Institute on Aging’s Resource Center for Minority Aging Research.

“Even seniors who choose to relocate for the gains of ‘downsizing’ or to be closer to loved ones can experience a sense of loss, as well as concerns about diminished autonomy and mortality,” Perry said. “When relocation is forced on seniors, the toll is much greater, particularly because they are not prepared financially or logistically to find housing of the same quality or with the same proximity to their places of worship, recreation, or health care. If the city’s revitalization is to hold promise for all residents, the unique needs of seniors must be understood and met.”

For more information on Dr. Perry’s research visit: http://research.socialwork.wayne.edu/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1826&Itemid=282

We will create and advance knowledge, prepare a diverse student body to thrive, and positively impact local and global communities.