Linda Couch

For more than 1.5 million older adults, the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s rental assistance programs bring housing affordability and stability. If Congress doesn’t enact a final fiscal year 2017 HUD appropriations bill, that stability disappears.

HUD’s rental assistance provides the resources necessary to bridge the gap between what low-income seniors can afford to pay for housing and what that housing actually costs to operate or rent from the private marketplace.

Each year, housing costs increase as rental markets strengthen, while rent fixed-income seniors can afford to pay stays relatively flat. HUD must increase funding.

Necessary HUD funding increases are annual occurrences and don’t result in new households being served. Because housing assistance is not an entitlement, only 1.4 of every 4 older adults eligible for housing assistance actually receives it; the rest face years on waiting lists and severe housing cost burdens, which result in less spent on health care, food, and other life necessities.

Government at its best

HUD’s Section 202 Housing for the Elderly program is government at its best: providing affordable housing, usually connected to services, for very low-income seniors in communities sponsored by mission-driven nonprofits.

The Section 202 program also explicitly is at risk if Congress fails to enact its FY17 HUD appropriations bill. Because of reliance for the last couple of years on using now-dried-up reserves, in part, to fund rental assistance for Section 202 properties, this program needs an unusually large increase for FY17.

The use of budget gimmicks eventually catches up with programs. This year, that program is the Section 202 Housing for the Elderly, and the reality is grim: an additional $72 million, compared with FY16, is needed. Without it, about one-sixth of Section 202 rental renewals will go unfunded.

Discretionary funding is under attack.

For seniors fortunate to be in Section 202 housing, where residents pay about 30% of their incomes for their housing, and millions more who need such assistance but can’t access it, LeadingAge and others are calling on Congress to finalize the FY17 HUD bill. Enacting the bill before the continuing resolution runs out will protect thousands of seniors from being displaced from their homes, giving hope to older adults in need of affordable housing that, one day, they’ll no longer have to choose between paying for rent, healthcare or food.

The battle for housing funding for FY18 already is brewing. President Trump has proposed to cut the HUD budget by 13% compared with fiscal year 2016 funding. Cutting HUD funding by any amount will affect fixed-income seniors who rely on its housing programs.

Beyond Section 202

Beyond the Section 202 program, HUD’s 1.1 million unit public housing program serves 342,000 senior households. The 2.4 million unit housing choice voucher and the 1.2 million unit project-based rental assistance programs each serve almost 600,000 senior households. These three programs on their own demand more than 85% of HUD’s funding each year.

If we care about how our nation’s seniors live their golden years, we not only must protect all of HUD’s programs staunchly; we also must work our hardest to expand them.

Linda Couch is vice president of housing policy at LeadingAge, an association whose provider members are not-for-profit, voluntary or government-sponsored organizations providing housing or care for the aging.

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