DUN.  Dead Upstairs Neighbor.  Your ceiling starts to leak so you put in a work order with the management office.  They send the superintendent, who comes and looks at your ceiling, then goes upstairs and finds your neighbor dead on the floor.  He’s been dead for three days and nobody missed him.

This is a standard scenario in every HUD high-rise apartment building.

It starts with federal policy that is solely driven by economics:  it’s cheaper to house two hundred people in single-occupancy apartments stacked ten stories high than it is to support two hundred people living in four-apartment houses in family neighborhoods.  The problem is that people who are old or sick still want to live like human beings instead of products, but there’s a five-year waiting list to get a voucher to live in a neighborhood.  It only takes a few months to get an apartment in a subsidized high-rise.

So you move into a HUD high-rise because it looks so nice.  Everything is clean, freshly painted and well-maintained.  This is because HUD has explicit regulations about upkeep and makes regular—and regularly frequent—inspections.  And you make the mistake of thinking that any place that looks that good must be nice to live in, right?

Wrong.  Federal policy gives you a nice place to live but nothing to do.  HUD high-rises are frequently built outside the city—oh, won’t it be so nice for old sick people to get out of the city?  The problem is that HUD subsidies are for poor old sick people.  Poor people, as well as most people who are disabled, don’t drive or own cars.  And bus companies don’t run routes to HUD high-rises outside the city because there’s no money in it.  Bus companies make money off students and workers who get on the bus twice a day five days a week, not random old ladies who get their hair done once a month.

So you move in, not realizing that you’ve just signed yourself into a prison from which death is the only escape.

Whether the HUD high-rise is in or out of the city, you expect to have a nice time meeting all those new people and making friends.  You imagine covered-dish dinners, card games, and friendly chats.  What you find is that the people who gather in the common areas of the building do so to gossip and complain.  You don’t want to do that so you become reclusive.  You start washing your clothes in the in-house laundry at odd hours so that you won’t run into the most miserable people who gather in the laundry.

At first, you talk to everybody.  You smile and greet people in the elevator and are hurt and confused when you don’t get a smile in return.  What do people have to smile about?  If they are living in two small rooms, it is because they either have no family or bad relationships with their families.  The two main reasons for this are (a) being disabled or (b) being a bitch.  Many families dump their disabled relatives.  I lived in a HUD building that only had twenty-four apartments but they were segregated to disabled-only.  Federally approved segregation?  Yep, that’s American policy.  It’s okay to segregate if you do so in order to provide special services, but they didn’t.  Neither did Christopher Community, the Catholic management company.

One tenant had a son living nearby who used to walk in for coffee every morning, and a daughter who took her out every week.  A few of the other tenants would get a family visit every month or two.  Some of the tenants could expect to be picked up and taken somewhere on major holidays, even while knowing the event was driven by guilt and obligation, not affection.  Some tenants never saw family from one year to the next.  White Americans like to dump their disabled relatives—people who are disabled take so much time and effort, don’t you know?  Black Americans let their relatives go to HUD buildings because they don’t have room in their apartments, not because they don’t have room in their hearts.  Black families keep in touch far more than white families.

The other reason for people living alone in these stacks of little apartments is because they’re not nice.  If you are a loving and kind person who is good company then it is likely that some member of your family will find a way to modify their home so that you can live with them.  If all you do is gossip and complain then why would anybody want you around?  Go live in a HUD property.

Once you take up residence in a HUD high-rise, there’s nothing to do.  Quarrelsome people can’t work together to plan activities.  The incidence of alcoholism is very high in HUD high-rises.  If you’re too sick to work then you’re too poor to own a car and what else is there to do?  Move into a high-rise in the city that’s within walking distance of a couple of bars.

So after you move in, you have some very bad experiences with other tenants and after that you keep to yourself.  You get sicker.  You’re put on oxygen, start using a walker, or get a catheter.  You slowly and steadily get worse but nobody notices or cares.  You are living in a warren of hundreds of people just like yourself.  Imagine if you could have gotten a voucher to live in a neighborhood where children played outside and their (healthy) parents noticed your comings and goings.  Imagine having the opportunity to make friends with those children and their parents.  Imagine being part of the community.

Sigh.  There’s no point in imaging.  You become bedridden and wait to die.  The last trip you will make will be to the bathroom.  Too sick to make it back to bed, you will fall, lay on the floor and die, and become another HUD DUN.

Forty percent of public housing units are occupied by households headed by a person 65 years old or older, most of whom live alone (88 percent) . . . 12 percent of public housing families have a nonelderly disabled head of household . . . 41 percent of occupied public housing units are in buildings with four or more stories, and 33 percent live in buildings with seven or more stories. . . Perceptions about public housing being located in poor neighborhoods are generally correct. . . . Forty-eight percent of occupied public housing units are either efficiencies or one-bedroom apartments suitable for the elderly. . . It would seem that many would choose to move if they had other options.

These are the facts from a HUD report published in 1995; fifteen years later, the statistics would be horrendously worse.

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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