Emotions ran high when officials announced rent increases in April at the Armed Forces Retirement Home.
In Gulfport, 101 veterans moved out rather than pay the increased rent, AFRH CEO retired Army Maj. Gen. Stephen Rippe said in a media teleconference Tuesday from Washington, D.C.
At the retirement home in D.C., he said, 12-15 veterans left.
On Tuesday, he reiterated that the the rent increase will be spread out over three years instead of all at once, and will begin Jan. 1 rather than the original date of Oct. 1.
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A few of those who left Gulfport already returned, he said, and others are considering moving back to the high rise with views of the beach.
With 433 residents, the home is at 80 percent occupancy, he said. Rippe said he expects Gulfport to be at the “gold standard” for retirement homes of 90 percent occupancy next year.
“I know that this fee increase has been tough on people for a lot of reasons,” he said, and many of them contacted the media and their Congressional representatives with their complaints.
“There’s been a lot of talk about not being able to afford the home,” he said, but he contends that is not the case.
The AFRH has more amenities than other assisted living facilities in the area, Rippe said. Veterans and now their spouses all have a private room and bath, all their meals, activities and healthcare, he said, including dental, vision and psychiatry.
Veterans pay a percentage of their income for rent. Currently those in independent living pay up to 40 percent of their income or a maximum of $1,458 per month. The average is $1,226.
When the rent increase goes into effect Jan. 1, residents in independent living will pay 48 percent of their income, up to $1,990 a month.
In 2021, when the full increase is reached, they will pay up to 60 percent or a maximum of $3,054.
The maximum will be $8,970 a month rent for a person in assisted living, $10,413 for long-term care and $10,626 for memory support, or a maximum of 70 percent of their income. But like a new car, Rippe said, very few residents will pay the full amount.
Rent currently contributes only $15.6 million of the $58 million it costs to operate the two retirement homes, financial documents show. Congress has appropriated $22 million over the past few years and still the AFRH has a $12 million operating loss.
The average resident has income of $40,000 a year. The Pentagon saw issues with those residents who have income of $64,000 up to more than $100,000 a year paying just $1,400 a month to live there, said James Branham, chief operating officer of the retirement homes. It costs more than $3,000 a month in operating expense per resident, he said, and taxpayers are subsidizing their rent.
While some residents moved out over the rent, others said they plan to stay.
“I can’t afford not to live here,” said Kenneth Henry, 80, a former Navy Senior Chief who came from Florida. “I choose to live here. I’m content,” he said.
Kelsey Farrell, 80, a Navy petty officer, has family in Washington state and said, “I don’t want them to have to take care of me when I can’t take care of myself.” Residents must qualify for independent living and then can stay on if their health declines and they need nursing home or memory care.
When the rent for these services costs 70 percent of his income, “I’ll be too old to spend it anyway,” he said.
For the indigent who may have only $10 a month in income, they receive $390.
“Every resident ought to have $100 a week to spend, right,” commented Rippe.
He wants to open the AFRH to veterans of the National Guard and Reserve and their spouses, he said, and reduce the average age from its current 83.
“We’re too old and we have too many men,” he said. He said he wants to see a younger, more vibrant community.
Amazon is good for AFRH
Tuesday’s announcement the Amazon will locate one of its new headquarters in Crystal City, Virginia, is good news for the future of the AFRH, which is about 10 miles away, Branham said.
Plans call for developing 80 valuable acres of the retirement home property in Washington, D.C., into mixed use that will bring restaurants and shopping near the home, and to renovate the long-shuttered Grant Building on the site into an assisted living center.
Rippe said they’ve already started charging for parking, which could bring $800,000 a year in income, and are renting out residential quarters, which were discounted for staff, now at market rate.
“This is 80 acres in central D.C.,” he said. Developers borrowed $2.5 billion to build the District Wharf in the city, he said, and land values appreciated 69 percent.
Those acres will help operate the homes, he said, and one day the income may allow residents’ fees to decrease.