Affordable Senior Housing Scarce as Boomers Age: Report

With the elderly population rapidly expanding as baby boomers enter retirement age, a task force from the Bipartisan Policy Center is calling on the federal government to spur renewed investment in affordable housing for seniors.

The center's task force, which was inspired by a 2013 report from the think tank's housing commission, argued that connections exist between housing and health that will affect the well-being of the country's senior population. The task force includes former Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros, former HUD Secretary and U.S. Senator Mel Martinez and former U.S. Representatives Allyson Schwartz and Vin Weber.

Among the task force's recommendations is to expand the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program significantly to finance the production and preservation of affordable rental units. The group also suggested that a new program be created using LIHTCs and project-based rental assistance to support further construction and attract funding from health care programs for services. And it recommended adequate funding for the Section 202 program, which provides rental assistance to elderly individuals.

According to the center, only 4.3 million rental homes were affordable and available to "extremely low-income" households in 2013 – with 11.2 million such households, that amounted to a shortfall of 6.9 million homes. Of the 11.2 million households gunning for the available homes, 2.6 million were elderly households without children. As the low-income senior population rises in the coming years, the need for affordable housing will grow in tandem, threatening to leave many such individuals homeless.

"Affordable housing is the glue that holds everything together," Martinez, who co-chaired the task force, said in a news release Monday. "Without access to affordable housing and the stability it provides, it becomes increasingly difficult to provide home and community-based supportive services that can enable successful aging."

But getting a home is just the first step for many seniors. The task force also reported on the concerns it identified regarding household finances and making the necessary changes to homes to accommodate health and accessibility needs. As the task force explained, roughly 40% of folks over the age of 62 are estimated to have financial assets of $25,000 or less over the next 20 years.

Consequently, the task force called for the authorization of a new Modification Assistance Initiative to coordinate federal resources for home modifications and for city- and state-based home-modification programs utilizing tax credits, grants and forgivable loans.

The group also reiterated that HUD should continue supporting "protections and counseling services" for people who took out federally insured reverse mortgages, and that it should consider creating products to allow elderly borrowers to access home equity.

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