Working at B’nai B’rith International during the past year has afforded me the opportunity to visit our sponsored Section 202 buildings across the country. B’nai B’rith in partnership with Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) sponsors Section 202 housing for low-income seniors throughout the United States comprising 38 buildings that serve more than 4,500 people. While touring the properties, I have gotten to talk with residents and see exactly how seniors benefit from living there. Learning about affordable housing is always a humbling experience, never more so than visiting the food pantries in the buildings. Staff members in multiple buildings explained to me how residents, unfortunately, at the end of the month, often don’t have enough money for food. Consequently, these food banks provide vital nutrition for low-income seniors who now don’t have to choose between food and healthcare.
According to HUD, the average annual income for a Section 202 household is around $13,300 or $1,108 or a month. Clearly Section 202 residents are not a group of people from great wealth. Given the type of resident these buildings attract, I am saddened a proposal introduced by HUD may RAISE residents’ rental contributions.
For people reading this blog, you have read correctly! The policy recently proposed by HUD could raise the rent on low-income seniors!
First the proposal changes how HUD calculates Section 202 rental contributions from 30% of adjusted income to 30% of gross income. Simply put this change will subject more of low-income seniors very limited financial resources to rental contributions. Secondly, the bill is requesting $50 a month minimum for rental contributions. To put this in perspective, this impacts people who make less than $2,000 a year, the exact type of person who the government should be looking to shield from further financial hardship.
The Administration and some members of Congress argue that government spending is out of control with our country’s debt reaching around $20 trillion dollars. There is no argument that our country’s debt needs to be tackled. However, addressing our debt on the back of elderly Americans is not acceptable. How is a better way of governing, one that leaves seniors without a roof over their head?
The proposed legislation slashes assistance for our most needy seniors by reducing their assistance for affordable housing. If taking away basic necessities for low-income seniors is required to return our country to greatness, I think the Administration’s definition of greatness is in my humble opinion morally bankrupt!
Evan Carmen, Esq. is the Assistant Director for Aging Policy at the B’nai B’rith International Center for Senior Services. He holds a B.A. from American University in political science and a J.D. from New York Law School. Prior to joining B’nai B’rith International he worked in the Office of Presidential Correspondence for the Obama White House, practiced as an attorney at Covington and Burling, LLP, worked as an aide for New York City Council Member Tony Avella and interned for Congressman Gary Ackerman’s office. Click here to read more from Evan Carmen.
Hundreds turned out when B’nai B’rith International, LeadingAge and other organizations co-hosted the Save HUD 202 Rally on Capitol Hill.
The purpose of the rally was to demonstrate how important existing Section 202 buildings are for low-income seniors and to indicate the need for additional funding for affordable housing, specifically for older Americans. B’nai B’rith launched its senior housing program in 1968, and since 1971, in a cooperative partnership with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), we have made rental apartments available for senior citizens with limited incomes, primarily through the Section 202 programs.
In May, the Trump Administration released its full Fiscal Year 2018 Budget and for the first time, the residents of Section 202 buildings could see reductions in their rental subsidies.
Unfortunately, the Trump Administration is proposing to give the secretary of HUD the authority to increase rental contributions from 30 percent of adjusted income to 35 percent of gross income, and increase minimum rental payments to $50 a month. Increasing the minimum rental payments to $50 a month would impact people who make less than $2,000 a year. While the administration’s proposed budget has a hardship exemption, I am curious to hear from the Trump Administration as to which low-income seniors who make less than $2,000 don’t qualify for a hardship exemption.
I think all reasonable people can agree, seniors who make less than $2,000 a year don’t need the federal government increasing their rent!
With Congress ultimately responsible for writing the federal budget, having hundreds of people at the rally on Capitol Hill was a great way for the housing community to express its concern for low-income seniors.
Also, B’nai B’rith was extremely pleased to see Senators Bob Casey and Robert Menendez and Rep. Al Green at the rally expressing their support for the Section 202 program. These members of Congress represent residents in B’nai B’rith sponsored buildings across the country, and we certainly appreciate their commitment to seniors and affordable housing.
During the rally Sen. Menendez said, “I am proud to stand with you today and every day to fight to protect and expand affordable housing for seniors.” We certainly urge other members of Congress to support additional funding for senior affordable housing as the need will only increase.
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B’nai B’rith International is a proud sponsor of affordable housing for low-income seniors. Since 1971, working with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), B’nai B’rith has made affordable rental apartments available for seniors, which currently assists about 8,000 older people with limited incomes. Between 1959 and 2012, the federal government with the help of nonprofit organizations constructed affordable housing for low-income seniors. B’nai B’rith and HUD have been able to make these rental apartments available through various federal programs, most recently through Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly. Currently, the Section 202 program is the only federal program that expressly addresses the need for affordable elderly housing for low income seniors (average income around $12,000).
These Section 202 buildings are able to provide a service enriched environment, often through the service coordinator program, which allows seniors to “age in place” and avoid moving to more costly institutional care. Unfortunately, in FY 2012 Congress stopped appropriating funding for the Section 202 Capital Advance Program that allowed for construction of new buildings. At the moment, Congress still appropriates funding for rental subsidies for the tenants who reside in existing buildings.
Recently, the White House proposed major reductions to the budget for HUD, and the low-income senior residents of Section 202 buildings unfortunately, might be the victim. Any proposed budget by the White House that reduces rental subsidies at the expense of affordable housing for seniors is an incredibly short sighted policy, and threatens to needlessly increase the federal budget. Long-term analysis demonstrates that 27 million older adults will be low-income in 2035, as compared to 15 million in 2015. Since the construction of new Section 202 buildings has remained stagnant since FY 2012, the demand for low-income housing is increasing while the supply of units is decreasing. According to the AARP, for every Section 202 unit that becomes vacant, there are 10 seniors on a waiting list. If additional affordable housing is not constructed, where are the 27 million low-income seniors supposed to live in 2035? Furthermore, cutting Section 202 rental subsidies only throws another log on the affordable housing shortage fire, for which the government has no strategy to extinguish.
According to HUD, 38 percent of Section 202 tenants are frail or near-frail, and consequently need help with daily activities, making them potential candidates for long-term institutional care. Section 202 community based services, like the service coordinator, have demonstrated a greater likelihood of retaining their residents and avoiding more pricey institutions. A HUD study from 2011, indicates, “the average age at which elderly households leave assisted housing is the highest for Section 202 residents compared to other housing programs.” Additional research concluded that housing programs like Section 202 are responsible for slowing the growth of Medicaid costs.
If the White House and Congress cut rental subsidies for Section 202 buildings it will only exacerbate an existing housing shortage. Members of Congress and the president should show political courage and demonstrate to their constituents that investing money in the Section 202 housing program allows seniors to “age in place,” and reduces unnecessary financial burdens on the federal budget.
I’m sure you are beginning to become familiar with the ways in which HUD assistance houses over 10 million individuals. This, of course, is carried out via public housing (rental housing for over 1 million low-income families, the elderly, and those with disabilities), multifamily subsidized housing (which includes Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly, the Congregate Housing Services Program, and Section 811 Supportive Housing for Persons with Disabilities Program) and housing vouchers (Section 8 project-based or tenant-based rent vouchers for low-income individuals, families, the elderly and the disabled). In addition, properties are often financed or assisted financially through the FHA insurance loan programs and low-income housing tax credits.
Five HUD programs provide affordable rental housing that is designated for low-income senior households. Section 202 provides housing exclusively for older adults and people with disabilities, while four other HUD programs provide housing for all age groups but have devoted the property to housing senior residents. These include Section 236 and Section 221 (d)(3) programs, public housing and project-based Section 8 programs dedicated primarily for use by senior households. After the Section 202 program, project-based Section 8 housing provides the most housing dedicated specifically to elderly households.
As you become more familiar with how HUD works to combat poverty for individuals and families all over our country using a modest portion of the federal budget, I want to bring your attention to the estimated 2 million seniors, most often low-income single women in their mid-70s to early-80s, who are housed through HUD subsidies or call HUD-assisted facilities home. HUD, a department that long ago began prioritizing the well-being of our most vulnerable seniors, has wavered in recent years on its commitment to take care of the oldest among our nation’s poor. I have the privilege of working directly with residents and staff of our 38 low-income supportive senior housing facilities, housing about 8,000 seniors across the country. Working with these buildings has transformed my understanding of what HUD-supportive housing is, and of who lives there. One thing has become particularly clear: We must include seniors in all of our conversations about publicly-funded housing.
I was disappointed that your remarks to the Senate Banking, Housing, & Urban Affairs Committee did not include comments about affordable housing for seniors. However, I was pleased to read you indicated in your written responses to Sen. Sherrod Brown that the Section 202 program is “an important tool” for senior housing and that you will lobby President Trump for the inclusion of this vital program as part of a comprehensive infrastructure package. Across the spectrum of publicly-assisted housing, seniors are everywhere. Not only are they served by senior-specific programs, but they are a significant part of the population in every other category of HUD’s portfolio. Frankly, I am worried that within your focus on eliminating “government dependence,” you do not account that many people who benefit from HUD are retirees and disabled people whose incomes will never really improve, and whose need for housing assistance cannot be dismissed. Many of your statements spoke to the desire to get people off of public assistance and to move them towards gainful employment through a “development of innate talent” and “work requirements.” While economic success and independence are laudable goals to facilitate for the working poor, they are not realistic for fixed income older adults.
Many seniors living now in HUD assisted housing—who are in your terms “dependent” on it—have worked their entire lives and are still only able to afford housing by combining meager Social Security benefits with assistance from your department. While many of these individuals live in senior-specific facilities, about a third of households that make up public housing are senior-led homes or include a family member who is a senior. I believe it is important to remember that work should not be the sole focus when we discuss assisting those experiencing poverty. If we forget about the special needs required by millions of seniors who are now unable to work, we have committed a great injustice. I, and many senior housing advocates, believe the focus should instead be placed upon addressing the root causes of the shortage in affordable housing. We believe that accessing affordable housing is prevented by systematic issues including, but not limited to, predatory mortgage lending, a stagnant and unrepresentative COLA used for Social Security and astronomical price surges in many areas where seniors hoped to “age in place” due to gentrifying neighborhoods.
I am encouraged to know that you will be able to apply a health perspective on housing, because good health outcomes are incompatible with unstable or inappropriate housing. Further, housing can be a platform for prevention and early health intervention services. I look forward to the integration of your medical knowledge into your approach to HUD programs and hope that you will ensure “aging in place” and preventative care are tenets of your leading this department. Research tells us that ensuring the well-being of an aging person while they are healthy or maintaining a chronic condition prevents hundreds of thousands of dollars being spent at the end of that individual’s life. We know that these end-of-life prices surges can occur through Medicaid funded nursing home care or through receiving emergency medical services. We also know that this can be prevented when folks are able to “age in place” with comfort and dignity. More so, those in the supportive housing industry know that co-location of services and housing is crucial to maintaining one’s health as they age. Affordable, supportive housing not only allows people access to “healthy” aging, but helps people avoid injuries and unnecessary nursing home placements.
I think it’s only fair that a society be judged on the way it takes care of its oldest members. While we experience a growing population of seniors who are currently 75 years of age and older, the senior population, those aged 65 and over, is projected to double by the year 2030, from 35 million to 71.5 million. In 2010, more than 44,000 people aged 65 and over were homeless. In many ways, I am saddened our country has not done a better job of creating and preserving housing for older adults. However, I hope that I can appeal to you, as a man of faith, that we lift up and support our older neighbors who face significant financial barriers, and deserve a warm place to call home!
While I hope you will take my concerns to heart, I would love nothing more than for you to visit any of the 38 senior housing facilities my organization, B’nai B’rith International, sponsors across the United States from Maryland to California. We hope that a visit from you to any of our thriving communities would serve as a fact-gathering mission and support the good work that you will be leading!
Breana Clark, MSW
If you were retired and living in an apartment community, would you want to live in a building totally isolated from your neighbors, or would you want to live in a vibrant community with a wide variety of programs and activities? Wouldn’t you want to live where you and your neighbors get to know one another, and are able to provide one another with mutual support through the good times and bad?
Luckily, in the B’nai B’rith Senior Housing network, a dedicated group of resident volunteers makes sure it is the latter, through their individual buildings’ “Residents Council” or “Association.”
The membership of each Residents Council is comprised of all the residents in that particular building. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Council is the voice in the community, and acts a liaison between management and the residents, as well as between the residents and the general neighborhood. Another significant role for every Council is to create programming and activities for the tenants. The Councils develop and carry out programs which they feel will improve the social and economic status of their residents.
Moreover, the Council truly enhances the “quality of life” in their respective housing developments, creating a sense of community, shared responsibility and inspiring residents to have a feeling of civic pride in their homes. A key part of this is involving all members in the planning and execution of activities, whether it is an ice cream social or a senior prom.
Senior housing communities that have a well functioning Residents Council, besides just benefiting the residents, also will have benefits for management. Working together on solving community problems allows management to have a better, more satisfying relationship with their tenants, creating a sense of respect instead of mutual distrust. Management can work with the Council to combat problems that affect all residents, such as residents propping open outside doors, people not cleaning up after their dogs, or any other issues that can impact people living in such close proximity in congregate housing. Although not required, HUD is very supportive of each Residents Council in all HUD subsidized buildings.
Recognizing how important these associations are for the tenants, Mark Olshan, Ph.D., director of the B’nai B’rith Center for Senior Services, created a program almost 30 years ago to provide training for these resident leaders of the B’nai B’rith buildings. The first Resident Leadership Retreat took place over three days. Over time, staff realized that it was such a wonderful opportunity, and with so much to learn, the retreat was eventually expanded to six days.
Scenes from previous Resident Leadership Retreats.
The retreat takes place every other summer at B’nai B’rith Perlman Camp, located in the scenic mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania, and is open to two residents from each of our U.S. and Canadian housing communities. One of the best parts of the program is that the retreat takes place while the young campers are still there.
The retreat features a variety of workshops conducted by staff from the B’nai B’rith Center for Senior Services including: how to run a tenants’ association, how to plan activities and programs for their fellow residents, how to recruit and retain volunteers, how to write newsletters and ideas to celebrate the diversity in our buildings. Sessions also provide icebreakers encouraging participants to network and learn from one another. A highlight of the camp experience is the opportunities for intergenerational activities with the elementary through high school population at camp. These programs include Israeli dancing and singing lessons, Shabbat services and various social events.
But that’s not all. The program is designed to be a memorable experience not just for the seniors who attend, but to be a benefit to all of the residents of our housing communities. Each participant is given the opportunity to learn skills so that when they go back to their buildings, they are able to make a difference in the lives of their fellow residents with a strong Residents Association.
In early August, 36 residents will be attending the next Resident Leadership Retreat. Hear from residents who took part in the 2013 retreat:
Janel Doughten is the associate director of the B’nai B’rith International Center for Senior Services, focusing on the subsidized senior housing program. She has been with B’nai B’rith for 23 years, and looks forward to leading the 15th Resident Leadership Retreat later this year. To view some of her additional content, Click Here.
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