June 21, 2023 By Bill Parry
With the arrival of summer and the inevitable heat waves posing a challenge for the city’s elderly, along with the exorbitantly high cost of living, a western Queens-based nonprofit is reminding elderly New Yorkers that they do more than build and operate senior affordable housing.
Since it was founded in Astoria in 1972 to serve the Greek community that increased exponentially in western Queens during a wave of immigration, HANAC has continued to advocate on behalf of the aging community. Now in its 51st year, the nonprofit social service organization has expanded citywide, helping senior New Yorkers to live independently.
“Older adults deserve to age with dignity and respect, among their peers and in safe environments, and they should have the opportunity to do that in their own communities,” HANAC Executive Director Stacy Bliagos said. “They are important to our culture, to the bonds that keep families together, and to the fabric of the city. Creating affordable living spaces for older adults is necessary in order to maintain a thriving community.”
The high cost of living in New York City and the scarcity of affordable homes pose ever-growing challenges to low-income seniors.
“Affordability for older adults does not stop at housing,” HANAC Director of Programs & Development Andrea Jerves said. “The cost of groceries, transportation, doctor’s visits and even basic utilities like heat and cooling all add up when living on a fixed income. Especially with many of these costs steadily rising over the years, the struggle to age in place among friends and family continues to get harder.”
HANAC programs and services include helping with transportation to the local community and senior centers, as well as to doctor’s appointments and other locations. The nonprofit also provides meals at its various senior centers and money-management assistance programs. HANAC also managed five affordable housing buildings across the city with a portfolio of 650 senior affordable housing units throughout Queens.
“HANAC tackles these affordability and accessibility issues from multiple angles, depending on the needs of the local community being served,” Jerves said. “Some communities have little access to public transportation, and so implementing a shuttle service is life-changing. Offering meals at an older adult center in an area with high rates of food insecurity can save people’s lives and their livelihoods. When determining which programs to offer, we consider the community. Their needs drive what we do, and that has been the case since we were founded in 1972.”
HANAC also provides housing ambassadors who can assist older adults with the process and logistics of submitting digital applications for city housing.
“We want people to come and speak to us about what they are facing, and what they need. If it’s housing, we can connect you to our housing ambassadors, to help you apply for affordable apartments through the city lottery,” Bliagos said.
Shifts in the weather and temperature can have a larger-than-normal impact on older adults, especially in extreme heat or extreme cold. Many of HANAC’s facilities act as cooling centers during the summer and the organization’s weatherization program provides low-income residents with a variety of services that help them prepare for cold weather, including weather stripping, roof insulation, health and safety testing and more.
“If you need weatherization in your home but cannot afford it, we can check to see if you qualify for free services,” Bliagos said. “There is so much we can do to assist, but people in need have to come and talk to us.”