Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Housing: Economic Security and an Essential Part of the Continuum of Care

Authored by Alayna Waldrum, Housing Legislative Representative, LeadingAge

Housing is the keystone in the continuum of care for America’s seniors. Without access to stable, supportive, affordable housing seniors cannot age safely with the services that they need.  Housing affordability is essential for all of us, but especially for seniors living on fixed incomes and managing service needs.  Their housing options are few and dwindling every day. There are 3.6 million seniors living below the poverty level. The HUD 2009 Worst Case Housing Needs study includes 1.33 million seniors with worst case housing needs and there is a documented increase in the elderly and near elderly who are homeless.

Our short-term challenge involves retaining funding for existing housing programs and replacing lost units with new development. Many members of Congress are promoting “solutions” for the federal budget crisis – to be played out in grand proportions shortly in the debate on the debt ceiling. Those solutions involve caps and triggers to slash federal spending with no regard for the impact these cuts will have on affordable housing and other programs serving the poor. The fiscal year 2011 appropriations compromise left the Section 202 supportive housing program with 2,000 + units cut from the fiscal year 2010 production level. Without affordable housing a major segment of our long term care system will not work.

Seniors rely disproportionately on federal housing programs and comprise a growing percentage of public housing and Section 8 voucher holders. The average HUD Section 202 residents is a woman, in her mid-to-late 70s, with an annual income of just over $10,000 and in need of assistance with a growing list of activities of daily living. If the indiscriminate cuts proposed become law and the HUD budget is cut along with other essential programs, it is this type of resident that will be forced into homelessness, institutional care or substandard and unsafe housing. 

A comprehensive national policy for affordable housing and services is needed. Whether it’s HUD’s Section 202, public housing, the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program and rural housing, these programs will pay dividends by reducing long-term health care costs and preventing premature entry into institutional settings. Congress must adopt a bipartisan commitment to protecting and serving our seniors and reinvest savings created by a housing + services model back into developing new supportive housing.

Like many of my colleagues in the aging and housing field I believe that the concern over the growing senior population should be a major policy issue for Congress. Providing less protection and leaving our seniors to the imperfect marketplace for housing and long term services and supports is not policy making. And worse, it ignores what is in the country’s best interest.

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