Affordable Housing Crisis Part 2

In Part 1, we reviewed local waiting list data for subsidized housing for seniors and it was apparent that obtaining a suitable apartment can take in excess of one year and this is a common place occurrence. A grim reality in our current culture is that the number of senior citizens in need of this type of subsidized housing intervention is increasing rapidly.

The Center for Housing Policy issued a comprehensive study with recommendations around this issue in the last year. The Center’s most well known sponsor is the American Association of Retired Persons and its funding sources include the Ford Foundation. They quantify the problem and also offer some solutions. The basic fact is that the number of people in the United States over the age of 65 will more than double in the next 40 years. A subset of that population, that is people over the age of 85, “will more than triple from 5.8 million in 2010 to over 19 million in 2050”. They also point out that on average people over the age of 65 spend 35% of their income on housing. The study goes on to point out that among the poorest households nearly half are spending 50% of their total income on housing.

One’s first thought might be to build more subsidized senior housing units and of course some of these are certainly required but budget constraints will make this the least desirable option for most governmental entities as evidence by the small amount of new construction during the last few years. We will need to employ more creative ways to use existing resources so that rapid deployment of much needed interventions can happen now.

A buzz word in senior housing currently is “aging in place”. The essence of this approach is adapting the person’s current residence so that it can be used safely for a much longer period of time if the modifications were not otherwise made. In some cases this might be as simple as turning a half bath into a full bath on a first floor and/or locating laundry facilities in a readily accessible place. Our local housing stock frequently lacks these two items in many of the more modest homes and these two components can make it or break it in terms of someone being able to remain safely in their home. Public policy needs to be modified so that Community Block Grant money and deferred loans can be diverted into projects such as these so that lower income owners can retrofit their homes to live there in safety and comfort for a longer period of time.

Shared housing is an option that has gained significant traction nationally but has not been advanced by any organization yet in the Buffalo area. The Buffalo News Home Finder has been publishing articles on this topic since 2008 and certainly it is time for this to begin in WNY. A shared housing center prescreens and matches people within the community to share expenses and household duties. There are many success stories on their web site, www.nationalsharedhousing.org. It has been their experience that multigenerational home sharing works well time and time again. They have a complete “how-to” guide on their web site as well as ongoing technical assistance for anyone who wishes to start a program. There are 9 such programs in New York State.

Expansion of the “Beacon Village” concept throughout many of our urban areas would decrease isolation for many seniors and allow them to maximize their resources. A “village” is typically defined by one or two zip codes and a small nOT for profit organization administers a volunteer based program to provide transportation, companionship and prequalified referrals so that people can meet their needs in the most cost effective manner possible. It allows people to preserve their much needed assets and to live healthier and happier lives. The average annual fee for this involvement is typically in the $400-$600 per year range. These organizations are currently relying on foundations and corporate donations to survive. Public funding for these programs clearly needs to be established.

So here are just a couple solutions. The problem is complex and the need becomes greater on a daily basis. We’ll need to implement some changes or the long term costs and consequences will be even greater.

Reprinted with permission of the Buffalo News Homefinder

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