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January 14, 2020

Is a Housing Affordability Crisis on the Horizon for Seniors?

Lisa Sitkin

(The pdf for the issue in which this article appears is available for download: Bifocal, Vol. 41, Issue 3.)

At a time when the shortage of affordable housing in communities around the United States regularly makes the headlines, another less visible housing crisis is also intensifying. The number of elderly people with “worst case housing needs” – defined as renters with very low incomes who do not receive government housing assistance and pay more than one-half of their income for rent, live in severely inadequate conditions, or both – is increasing rapidly.  Nearly 10 million households with an occupant over age 65 spend more than 30 percent of their incomes on housing; roughly 5 million of those households spend more than 50 percent.

The growth in the population of  Americans aged 65 or older – projected to reach nearly 73 million in 2030, and more than 83 million in 2050  – will likely mean that senior households increasingly will be renters. And senior renters, many of whom live on fixed incomes, are particularly vulnerable to the risks posed by skyrocketing rents, stagnant housing production, and increasingly severe natural disasters. Resources for housing and supporting our aging population are scarce in relation to the scope of the problem. As of 2016, only 36 percent of renters aged 62 or over who qualified for some form of federal rental assistance were actually receiving it. Since the number of older renters earning 50 percent or less of their area median incomes (the threshold at which those aged 62 or over are generally eligible for federal rental assistance), is expected to reach over 7.5 million by 2035, nearly 5 million very low-income seniors would still remain unassisted -- even if subsidies could be expanded to maintain that percentage. The number of homeless older adults (55 and over) is projected to grow from 170,000 in 2017 to 225,000 by 2026, with the fastest growth among those 65 and over.

There is an urgent need for more advocacy to increase funding for subsidized housing coupled with supportive services now and in future years. In the meantime, though, it is very important to understand what resources are currently available and help low-income seniors access and retain those resources.

This article on elder subsidized housing offers advocates and providers working with seniors basic information about the federal subsidized housing programs available to seniors and a summary of resources that advocates and providers can consult when a senior client needs assistance obtaining or holding onto subsidized rental housing.

The Programs include:

  • The federal government subsidizes rental housing through a variety of different programs. For seniors, these include:
  • Public housing, in which the rental properties are government-owned
  • Programs that provide financial support for tenants renting from private owners, which include Section 8 (tenant-based and project-based), Section 202 and Section 811
  • Rural housing programs
  • Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program

Read the full article or download the complete issue.

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