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Boston Globe's look at affordable housing should also address gaps in senior housing

Posted: November 23, 2011

This post appeared as a Letter to the Editor in the Boston Globe on November 28, 2011

The Globe ran an excellent piece on the front page this week, State Falls Short on Affordable Housing.  It bemoaned the slow pace of producing affordable housing in the Commonwealth.  A few months ago, the Globe ran a series of stories on page one, alerting us to the coming demographic tsunami of an aging population.  I’d like to connect the dots:

The gap in affordable senior housing is going to outpace all other gaps, and supportive senior housing offers an enormous chance to spend government dollars cost-effectively.  This Globe story did not distinguish between senior and family housing produced.   And yet:

  • Seniors are disproportionately in poverty—16% of seniors live below the poverty line.
  • The number of seniors in the population is skyrocketing—between 2000-2025 the number of people over 85 is expected to double—the fastest growing age group in America is those over 100! 
  • Health care and housing costs have the greatest impact on low incomes on seniors; the different funding streams make it nearly impossible to capture the value of savings in one or the other.  By adding supportive services to senior housing, we are creating an alternative to assisted living and nursing homes that save substantial dollars AND provide better quality of life.

The only funding source to close this affordable housing gap is government.  The Globe, and other media, do a dis-service in the long run if every story about government is negative.  An “against all odds” and “tenacity wins out” companion piece to this morning’s story is needed (also on page one?).  I think an editorial about what can happen IN that housing—when we can provide relatively low-cost services, we can keep people in housing at a huge savings to the government and to society—would be a fabulous complement to the stories.

Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly is an effective model for addressing the needs identified so ably by the Globe. Because these supportive services are not eligible for government funding, we have to raise an enormous amount of private philanthropic dollars each year.  Very few organizations are willing to do that, so we have a great model but its replicability is limited by the lack of public dollars for the essential supports.

In the end, it’s about people and how seniors deserve to live out their final years with dignity.  When one woman moved into the community we opened in June, she said “today I am no longer a burden on my children.”


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