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.
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