NORWALK — Alberta Robison, an elderly widow without much money, lives in a 25-year-old housing project in a $125-a-month studio apartment--and she loves it.
"The only thing I don't like about it is I want to be on the outside (of the complex) so I can see some people go by," Robison, 79, said recently as she stood in her living room/bedroom, surrounded by dozens of family portraits and examples of her needlework.
For six years she has lived in Soroptimist Village, a low-cost housing complex of modest, well-maintained garden apartments designed, built and run by area Soroptimist clubs, members of the international service organization for business and professional women.
The village was opened 25 years ago this month, a creation of women who recognized a need for simple housing for senior citizens living on fixed incomes. They celebrated the project's dedication with tea and cookies.
Today , hundreds of Soroptimists are expected to gather at the 2 1/2-acre complex on Foster Road to observe the village's anniversary with country music, barbecued beef and birthday cake.
The one-story, stucco buildings are unassuming, clustered among lawns and plantings. There is a recreation building equipped with a kitchen and even a small room where tenants can get their hair set.
"It's quiet and everybody is nice," 10-year resident Antonia Pacheco, 76, said approvingly.
Constructed with painstakingly raised donations and a $297,000, low-interest federal loan, the village was the brainchild of the late Dr. Elizabeth Smith Wright, a club member fondly remembered as "Dr. Betty." The project's legal advisers, the architect and the owner of the construction company were all women, said Mari Carroll, president of the Soroptimist Village Foundation.
"Now we have senior citizen housing, but they didn't then," said Carroll, who heads a 39-member board of directors drawn from the 13 Southeast clubs that now support the village.
No Government Help
Donations from the clubs play a significant role, since only about two-thirds of the complex's operating budget is derived from rents. Other than the original, 50-year federal loan, the foundation receives no government financial help.
Residents have to be at least 62. The maximum allowable monthly income for couples is $1,200, for singles, $650. Single apartments in the 47-unit complex rent for $125 and one bedrooms rent for $175.
Robison was living in a Paramount trailer park with her husband when she heard about the village from a man who regularly sold her old pants for 10 cents apiece. She cut up the garments to use in her quilt-making.
"I thought, I don't have much money and I could sure qualify for it that way," she recalled. She did, and moved into a one-bedroom apartment with her husband. When he died last year, she moved around the corner to a single.