The demographics are staggering yet all too familiar – our senior population will double by 2030. There are 3.6 million seniors living below the federal poverty line. HUD estimates that they will need to build an additional 10,000 units per year of Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly to meet the need. And our national long-term care system remains fragmented and inaccessible for older Americans. Our culture has embraced home and community based services models of care and the goal of aging in place, but without a comprehensive approach to serving our elderly population we will face an abrupt and unpleasant wake up call in a few years.
Affordable, supportive senior housing is an integral component to addressing our national long-term care needs. Unfortunately, Congress faces a FY 2011 Budget Proposal that recommends suspending the Section 202 capital advance development program in order to reform the program. While there are several program changes that can and should be made to modernize and streamline production, any suspension of new units would further exacerbate our long-term care crisis. The AARP estimate of 10 seniors that are waiting for each Section 202 unit that becomes available is a testament to the program's great need.
Approximately 3,500 Section 202 units are built each year. With an average residency of 7.8 years, five seniors will live in a unit over the 40 year affordability commitment of the project. This means that 17,000 very low-income elderly will benefit from every year the Section 202 capital advance program is funded. Furthermore, program features such as service coordination means that senior residents and care givers are not left to navigate the complexities of federal, state and local programs alone.
The Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC), which has been highlighted as the largest developer of senior housing and an alternative to the Section 202 program, cannot meet the needs of the average Section 202 resident. The average Section 202 resident has an income of less than $10,000 per year and cannot afford the rents in a tax credit property.
The LIHTC program serves an important population and will be essential for those low- and moderate-income seniors to age in place. The programs however, are not interchangeable.
Affordable, supportive senior housing and its role in addressing our long-term care crisis is undeniable. Congress should maintain and fully fund the Section 202 capital advance program. In addition, the Senate should move forward with S.118, Section 202 reform legislation to bring the program into the 21st century.
Alayna Waldrum serves as housing policy associate at the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging.