As information begins to trickle out from House committees hammering out plans for the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill, affordable senior housing is positioned to benefit from a “historic investments” not seen in recent memory, according to industry representatives.
During a call with association members Wednesday, LeadingAge Vice President of Housing Policy Linda Couch said that the House Financial Services Committee allocated $322 billion for affordable housing, including $2.5 billion for the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly program, which she called a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” Couch said that the funding amount could result in 20,000 to 25,000 new Section 202 homes and 2,000 new service coordinators as well as a new housing and services technical assistance center for states.
That committee’s bill also includes $10 million for multifamily housing for “greening,” retrofitting and preservation, as well as tens of billions of dollars for other HUD and U.S. Department of Agriculture housing programs.
LeadingAge Congressional Affairs Manager Andrea Price-Carter said that the House Ways and Means Committee also released some language from its bill, which includes “historic investments in long-term care staffing as well as direct care workforce issues.”
Specifically, the Ways and Means Committee proposal includes a state entitlement of $392 million for fiscal years 2022–2025 for nursing home worker training grants through the Nursing Home Workforce and Expansion Act of 2021.
All eligible aging services providers would be able to access the funds, Price-Carter said. Language in the bill as currently written gives states flexibility in using the money for wage subsidies, student loan repayments, tuition assistance and child care, as well as for funding two additional weeks of paid leave and supportive services to help with worker retention and recruitment.
The Education and Labor Committee’s bill reportedly includes the Direct Care Opportunities Act, designed to assist with recruitment, training and retention of direct care workers. Price-Carter said that $1.5 billion could be allocated over fiscal years 2022 through 2031 for competitive grants that could be accessed by an array of providers, including nonprofit organizations, labor unions, state governments, Native American tribes and area agencies on aging.
“These are significant proposals,” Price-Carter said. “We are pleased with what we are seeing so far.”
Senior HUD officials also spoke about Secretary Marcia Fudge’s mission for the agency during the membership meeting.
“HUD’s mission is not just about bricks and mortar, assets and funding programs,” but rather is about attending to the whole needs of the people, said Richard Cho, HUD Housing and Services senior adviser. Conversations in the agency are based on a philosophy that housing is infrastructure and needs to be part of what the Biden administration theme of “Building Back Better” means, he added.
“It’s not just about building housing, but the kind of housing that supports the health and well-being of Americans,” Cho said, adding that when it comes to older adults, that kind housing includes supporting older adults’ ability to remain in place, to live with independence and dignity, and to have access to the services needed to avoid institutional care. “It’s about advancing a vision of what housing for older adults could be — equitable access to a combination of housing and services,” he said.
HUD is working with colleagues at the Department of Health and Human Services to develop policy to ensure a recognition that “housing is critical to healthcare, and healthcare needs to be provided in ways that are easier to access for people who live in housing,” Cho said.
That recognition, he said, means providing accompanying services, including ensuring easier access to clinical and medical services for HUD-assisted residents and locating wellness coordinators and wellness nurses at HUD-assisted housing.
Ethan Handelman, HUD deputy assistant for multifamily housing, called Biden’s Build Back Better agenda a “once-in-a-generation level of investment in people, in places, in housing, in health.”
“This is the closest I’ve seen us come as a country to realizing that vision of meeting that need in the long term,” Handelman added. Several elements in the agenda could directly affect Section 202 housing, he said, including environmentally friendly and resilient retrofits designed to turn properties into healthier environments that are more energy efficient and safer in natural disasters.
When it comes to funding service coordinators, Handelman said the challenge is finding a sustainable funding model. The overall challenge in the effort, he added, is helping the healthcare system understand the value of service coordinators.
“The future of healthcare will be how we ensure those payers — like Medicare, Medicaid and private insurers — see the value of covering and reimbursing community health workers and service coordinators,” Handelman said.