MILWAUKEE — Leonard Cherry, 65, says he was robbed by a neighbor who came into his public housing apartment on the pretext of asking for a drink of water.
Floyd Morris, 80, says loud music keeps him awake.
Mildred Just, 87, and Phyllis Banaszynski, 79, won't ride the elevators at night.
All say they won't leave their apartments alone after dark, in large part because of younger residents who abuse drugs and alcohol.
"When they drink, smoke those drugs, they don't care about you, me, anyone," Cherry said.
Milwaukee officials, responding to the complaints, have announced plans to reserve seven of the city's 14 public housing high-rises for senior citizens. Slightly more than half of the 2,300 people living in the high-rises are 62 or older.
It's the first time a city has sought and received permission to implement an amendment to the 1992 federal housing law that allows cities to set aside portions of their public housing for senior citizens, according to Joseph Shuldiner of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Over the years, federal law was amended to allow mentally disabled people treated for drug and alcohol abuse to occupy public housing along with elderly residents and those with disabilities.
"This meant that the apartments set aside for elderly and disabled had a whole new population of people," said Martha Brown, a staff assistant with the Department of City Development. "These were a very different type of person."
Public housing managers said the influx of new residents, particularly those with drug and alcohol problems, threatened elderly residents.
"These little ladies who used to quilt in the lounges or walk the hallways--they can't do that anymore," said Pat Paskel, manager of the Riverview Apartments, a public housing high-rise. "It's made the elderly virtually prisoners in their own apartments."
The elderly also started looking for housing elsewhere. Less than a third of the 700 people on waiting lists for public housing are elderly.
The problems spurred city leaders to push for changes in the law. In 1992, a panel led by Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist recommended separating the elderly. Rep. Gerald Klezcka (D-Wis.) used the recommendation as a basis for an amendment to the 1992 housing law.
HUD issued regulations April 15 allowing cities to designate portions of their public housing as elderly-only. Cities must have individual plans approved by the department, HUD spokeswoman Vivian Potter said.
Milwaukee filed plans with HUD outlining its program to separate the elderly in its public housing in January. In February--before HUD had approved the plan--the city announced that seven of the city's 14 public housing high-rises would begin accepting only senior citizens.
The announcement--and the federal approval--had a dramatic effect. In contrast to last December, when no one applied for public housing, there were 51 applicants in the first 17 days of April, city officials said.
"Clearly, things are looking up," Brown said.
Senior citizens living in the seven buildings not designated elderly-only may stay in those buildings. But if they want to move they will get the first available opening in the elderly-only high-rises.
Under Milwaukee's new rules, younger tenants currently living in the seven facilities reserved for the elderly will be allowed to stay, but new younger tenants will be housed in the remaining buildings, said Ricardo Diaz, the director of the Milwaukee Housing Authority.