Older adults who rely on federal affordable housing programs to avoid homelessness will suffer because of the deal’s spending caps.
Stop asking me if I’m relieved that the debt ceiling deal saved Medicare, saved Medicaid, saved Social Security, saved the world economy. Sure, I’m relieved. But it isn’t a hands-down success for older adults. The deal’s downside includes two years of spending caps that could be terrible for the older adults waiting for a home in affordable housing.
In May, the Washington Post reported on the dramatic rise in homelessness among older adults, and provided clear evidence of what happens when policymakers neglect affordable housing funding. Did you know that most older adults experiencing homelessness do so for the first time after age 50? What’s more, single adults over 50 now make up half of the homeless population. Speaking to lawmakers at a Mar. 8, 2023 hearing on “The Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness,” Jeff Olivet, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness said, “If nothing changes in the next 15 years, Harvard University estimates that an additional 2.4 million seniors in the U.S. will have no access to affordable housing.”
Already, older adults’ wait to get into affordable housing can be years long. While they wait, some become homeless—a terrifying predicament, as the Washington Post reveals. Homelessness is not a choice. It is a consequence—of too little investment in affordable housing for older adults, which brings us back to the debt ceiling deal. Funding for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) programs comes from annual appropriations bills passed by Congress and signed into law by the president. The debt ceiling deal allows next year’s funding for annually appropriated programs (including HUD’s) to be at the current year’s level plus 1%. That’s not enough. Year-over-year costs for property insurance, staff, utilities, maintenance, and other necessities increase more than 1%. That’s basic household budgeting. The debt deal’s 1% increase will inevitably leave some programs out in the cold.
LeadingAge is urging Congress to fully fund housing programs—that is, to provide enough resources to ensure preservation of existing homes (so currently assisted seniors can continue to live in them) as well as expansion of our overall supply. Only a small portion of demand is met right now.
Money for these programs allows our innovative members to serve millions of low-income older adults in affordable housing communities around the country. Case in point: HumanGood’s new “Welcome Home” initiative, which provides affordable housing pathways to older adults who lack housing security.
Through HUD’s voluntary preference program, HumanGood is setting aside 6.5% of the units at some affordable housing sites for people experiencing homelessness or formerly homeless older adults, mostly in properties operated through Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly or Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance programs; the Duarte, California-based nonprofit plans to increase the percentage to 10%, 15%, or possibly more in some sites. In addition to housing, older adult residents can access wraparound services including help with meals, transportation, behavioral health counseling, facilitating medical appointments, and much more through HumanGood’s partnerships with organizations, such asSCAN Independence at Home. “You have somebody who might have been living in their car, in a motel, whatever the case may be. On the front end they need 100% support, and it’s a big, big deal to really acclimate people, and then to make them comfortable,” says Linda Coleman, vice president of resident services for HumanGood. (For more on the Welcome Home Initiative, read Building Partnerships to Help Solve National Crisis of Older Adult Homelessness.)
If HUD-contracted providers of affordable senior housing, like HumanGood, receive an effective funding cut because of the 1% increase cap, their ability to address the most severe challenges becomes that much harder.
So am I relieved by the debt-ceiling deal? Stop asking me. Instead ask 73-year old former autoworker Beatrice Herron, now living on the streets in Phoenix who, the Washington Post notes, hardly stands out from the “dozens of white-haired denizens of tents in the surrounding streets.” For Beatrice and too many like her, subsidized apartments would be a lifesaver. The debt ceiling deal? Not so much.