Journal of Housing & Community Development

Award of Excellence: Promoting Healthy Communities for Seniors

December 16, 2019

The Housing Authority of the County of Los Angeles (HACoLA) wins a 2018 Award of Excellence in Resident and Client Services for creating by a partnership with the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health to enable residents to age-in-place with ease. Nominated from among the NAHRO Award of Merit winners each year, the Awards of Excellence winners are chosen by national juries and honored at the annual National Conference and Exhibition in October. They represent the very best in innovative programs in assisted housing and community development.   

By 2030, the Housing Authority of the County of Los Angeles (HACoLA) estimates that they will have three million residents over the age of 60. As their resident population ages, HACoLA partnered with the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health (LACDMH) to promote healthy aging-in-place practices for seniors living in their public housing.  

Using a study based on a large-scale needs assessment of older adults in their area, HACoLA and LACMDH developed and implemented a three-step aging-in-place program model:  

  • Co-location of mental health providers in public housing communities to deliver mental health support services onsite;  
  • Regularly scheduled consultation meetings to address case scenarios that place older adults at-risk for eviction; and  
  • Training for HACoLA employees to prepare them for the changing needs of older adults.  

HACoLA and LACDMH collaborated on the development of the Operating Agreement of the program and each entity was required to provide a liaison to steer the partnership and be the primary gatekeepers for inquiries, employee trainings, and ensure staff is present for conference calls. LACDMH worked closely with its service providers to include older adults in public housing into their existing contracts.  

Initially, HACoLA identified 13 senior public housing sites that were in need of mental health support, while LACDMH identified service providers for each housing location. They held planning meetings to discuss the residents’ needs, what resources were available, service provider capacity, and spectrum of offered services.

During Phase I of the project, they prioritized six of the 13 senior public housing development locations: Lancaster Homes, Nueva Maravilla, Carmelitos, Orchard Arms, West Knoll, and Whittier Manor. HACoLA also provided private office space for the service provider and stipulated the office hours and types of services offered onsite at these communities.  

HACoLA staff held monthly calls with LACDMH staff and service providers to address any problematic cases, and seek recommendations and technical assistance in order to maintain and promote healthy aging and living for the residents. One case discussed during a call was about an 87-year-old public housing resident whose extreme hoarding placed him in danger of eviction. LACDMH referred the resident to their mental health service providers and provided cleaning services to help declutter the unit. This intervention helped this resident to avoid eviction and to find the mental health support he needed.  

LACDMH also provided mental health trainings to HACoLA employees in order to “strengthen their ability to interact and engage with older adults who may be experiencing symptoms of mental illness.” One hundred HACoLA employees benefited from the trainings and reported becoming more knowledgeable about both the signs of mental illness and the community resources available for their residents.  

To date, the collaboration has successfully co-located service providers at five of the six priority public housing sites. Between February and October in 2017, the service providers positively impacted 223 public housing older adults. Through clinical services, outreach and engagement, group activities, and numerous mental wellness forums, many of the older adults reported a reduction in feeling isolated and overall satisfaction with the quality of activities delivered by the service providers.  

HACoLA’s dedication to their senior residents lead to a successful partnership that provided residents with access to the support they needed to lead healthier lives and, at times, divert them from eviction. For Phase II of their collaboration with LACDMH, HACoLA will take the lessons they learned to start co-locations at their remaining eight housing sites. 

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