Study Highlights Need for Affordable Housing for Older Adults
Before moving to Nia Apartments last fall, Mary Utecht, 56, spent two years living alone in transitional housing. When the clock ran out on her stay there, Utecht, a former victim of domestic violence, had nowhere to go. "Getting into affordable housing takes years," Utecht said. Despite feeling anxious and depressed about her predicament, she called everywhere she could think of to find a place to live. Nothing she could afford was available.
Residents and guests tour the beautiful new Nia Apartments for seniors and people with disabilities during a recent King County Housing Authority presentation.
"I was falling apart. I was afraid I'd have to live in the bushes again and I just couldn't bear the thought," said Utecht. Then she learned that one of her caseworkers had put her on the waiting list at Nia.
"When the property manager there called to let me know an apartment was available, it was like a ray of light," she said. "It's so beautiful and I love it. It brings me a lot of hope and respect for myself."
The new 82-unit, four-story apartment complex—located in the King County Housing Authority's Greenbridge community in White Center—became available to tenants in September 2008, when it leased up in four short days, showing just how great the need is for more affordable housing in King County. Nia is the Authority's first new public housing complex for seniors and persons with disabilities in 26 years. Nia's residents have an average annual household income of $10,200.
Bettylou Valentine spoke about the need for affordable senior housing at the recent KCHA event at the new Nia Apartments.
Nia was the ideal location on Thursday, February 19, 2009, to introduce residents and guests to a new report entitled Quiet Crisis: Age Wave Maxes Out Affordable Housing, King County 2008- 2025, commissioned by Aging and Disability Services and local public agencies.
According to the report, the number of poor senior households in Seattle/King County will double to over 50,000 households by 2025. Even assuming that the poverty rate remains stable across the region, the community will need nearly 16,000 additional units of subsidized housing by 2025 to maintain the
same ratio of affordable housing units to poor seniors that we had in 2008. To meet the need, more than 900 subsidized housing units will need to be added each year through 2025, starting now.
According to resident Mary Utecht, the Nia Apartments are “a ray of light”!
King County Housing Authority Executive Director Stephen Norman and over 100 guests—including members of Representative Jim McDermott and Senator Patty Murray's offices—led the charge to come together to meet the wave of seniors about to flood the region with an unprecedented amount of housing and services needs.
"It's tough to be old, frail and dependent on Social Security," said Stephen Norman. "In the current market, seniors who rely solely on public support must pay 80 percent of their monthly income to rent an average apartment. Without an increase in housing for poor seniors on fixed incomes, this is a prescription for homelessness."
Seattle Housing Authority Executive Director Tom Tierney notes, "The Seattle Senior Housing program, which provides affordable housing to low-income seniors, is very popular and in high demand. As we plan for future needs, we must increase this type of affordable housing specifically for seniors."
Currently, public housing and Section 8 subsidies support only 43 percent of the seniors in Seattle/King County who are in poverty. "The senior population in the county is growing at a phenomenal rate—by 2025, one in four King County residents will be age 65 or older," said Pamela Piering, division director of Aging and Disability Services. "Such a profound demographic shift creates new challenges both for policymakers and resources. Comprehensive needs deserve comprehensive attention. Fortunately, there is a strong regional commitment to start work now to create an integrated approach to assistance for low-income seniors. This report will help us plan for future housing needs for older King County residents."
Among the report's findings:
- By 2025, the number of seniors in King County will double, representing 23 percent of King County's total population. The number of seniors living in poverty will more than double.
- Currently, the need for affordable housing greatly surpasses the supply. An additional 936 subsidized units will need to be created each year until 2025 just to maintain the current ratio of affordable housing to poor seniors.
- The future needs of seniors will differ in some respects from today's seniors. The baby boom generation is less likely than prior generations to derive its retirement income from lifetime sources such as pensions or annuities. Instead, more seniors will have to rely on lump-sum sources such as 401(k) and savings plans, which require more attention and are less secure. Seniors are expected to live longer and spend more years with limited mobility and supportive services needs.
- Working together, local governments, nonprofit agencies and housing authorities can lead community-wide efforts to avert the crisis. Strategies to meet the identified future needs of seniors run the gamut from providing services that help Seattle/King County residents prepare to succeed in retirement— including healthy aging initiatives, financial literacy training and incorporation of universal design features in new construction and remodeling projects—to making it easier for residents to remain in their homes as they age. Other approaches include making strategic investments of public funding to expand the supply of affordable housing for seniors, making policy changes that create a wider range of choices for low-income seniors who must rely on subsidized housing and state-sponsored health care, and encouraging the creation of new types of supportive housing.