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Increasingly, Seniors Face Inadequate Affordable Housing Options

Posted: April 30, 2014

Today’s New York Times front page reports that many elderly New Yorkers are without appropriate housing.  As a consequence of escalating rents and fixed incomes, New York’s seniors are often moving frequently and renting rooms without cooking facilities or private bathrooms, sleeping on friends’ couches and even being forced out of the City that has been their home for 70-80 years.

New York City is not alone in having inadequate affordable housing for its precious elders.  According to the Wider Opportunities for Women index, the biggest gap between income and housing costs for seniors is in Massachusetts.  DHCD’s own study found that seniors are the age group with the greatest percentage of people with excessive housing cost burden.

Fortunately, Mayor Walsh identified senior housing as a high priority for his new administration in his inaugural address.  We’re working with his administration to identify and pursue all possible opportunities to expand our successful model of aging in community.  Mayor Warren of Newton has indicated his interest in expanding senior housing and making it broadly affordable—he wants to make sure Newton seniors aren’t priced out of their own community.  And other cities and towns are trying to get ahead of the need—just last month Wayland Town Meeting passed a rezoning to allow senior affordable housing on a Town-owned parcel.  The Town of Framingham was very supportive in our opening of Shillman House.

State and federal policy makers should jump on this bandwagon before the need overwhelms us all.  According to an Urban Institute study, by 2022 more than half of the federal budget will go to senior spending, up from 11% in 1960—if we don’t get a handle on this (and senior housing has the best chance of doing that), the growth of these expenditures will crowd out spending on infrastructure, education and research.  We would love to see a very high priority for senior supportive housing in the allocation of tax credits and soft debt at the state level.  The Federal Government needs to reverse the funding moratorium on new Section 202 housing, as this is by far the most cost-effective possible mechanism for expanding the supply.  And we all need to break through the silos of health care and housing to holistically address the challenges ahead in a way that honors the lifetime contributions of our mothers and fathers.

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