A LeadingAge survey measuring the effects of COVID-19 on affordable senior housing providers has found spikes in COVID-19 cases at communities, severe financial strain among providers and concerns about resident social isolation.

The poll of LeadingAge members is the second quarterly survey, this one held over two weeks in January, that found concerns for providers serving more than 2.5 million older adults with low- or extremely low incomes.

Most notably, the number of providers reporting known coronavirus cases at their communities jumped from 59.92% in the October survey to 74.5% in January. At the same time, many providers (58.29%) report not receiving financial assistance from the Department of Housing and Urban Development for COVID-19-related extra expenses or revenue losses.

Those who said they did receive HUD payments reported that the most common payment types were COVID-19 Supplemental Payments (34.86%), followed by extra payments for grant-funded service coordinators (10.86%) and subsidies for vacancy loss (4%).

The majority of affordable senior housing communities are facilitating COVID-19 vaccines (93.75%) and testing access through on-site clinics (32.46%) or connecting residents with , off-site testing options (41.36%) according to the survey. They also report hiring additional cleaning and security services; supporting residents with meal, laundry and transportation access; and stocking up on personal protective equipment to limit the spread of the virus.

Among top challenges providers said they anticipate in the next three months are resident social isolation and access to services (80.73%), residents’ health risks (60.42%), employee morale and staffing levels (45.83%), confirmed staff coronavirus cases (42.19%) and vaccine access (39.58%).

Anticipated top operational challenges include inspections and maintenance (54.10%), vacancies (50.82%) and financial challenges and funding delays (28.42%).

Relief package

Meanwhile, Feb. 9, LeadingAge sent a letter to Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), chair of the House Committee on Financial Services, asking that relief proposed for affordable housing communities in the 2020 Emergency Housing Assistance for Older Adults Act be included in the committee’s relief package.

The bill seeks $1.2 billion in relief, including $845 million for the HUD Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly Program program, including additional staff and PPE; $300 million for service coordinator grants to prevent, prepare for or respond to public health emergencies related to COVID-19; and $50 million for wireless internet services. 

“What we’ve seen from the House thus far is a significant step in the right direction on healthcare provisions, but we’re disappointed that resources for the millions of low-income older adults living in federally-assisted affordable housing have largely been forgotten,” LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan said. “Relief must prioritize their needs, as well as those of providers struggling with the financial consequences of the pandemic.

Risk factors

The LeadingAge survey comes after HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research recently reported that an investigation of risk factors affecting HUD-assisted households indicates that a COVID-19 response supporting these groups is “critically important.”

Age is one of those risk factors, with HUD noting that its renters are more likely to be aged 65 or older. In that population, hospitalization rates and mortality from COVID-19 are 90 times higher for older adults 65 and older, and 630 times higher for individuals 85 and older, than other members of the public.

Disability, race, income and isolation are other risk factors.

Among heads of households, 46% of those 62 and older have a disability and are more likely to experience heart disease, stroke, diabetes or cancer, HUD said.

“The prevalence of mobility disabilities and other types of disabilities among HUD-assisted households, along with their higher average age, increases their risk for severe illness caused by COVID-19,” according to the agency.