“Disturbing news” that Republican leadership’s $928 billion counterproposal to the Biden administration’s $2 trillion infrastructure bill strips out every dollar to support affordable senior housing is simply “unconscionable,” LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan said Thursday.

She led a panel discussion on what she described as a crisis in meeting the housing needs of a rapidly aging population.

“It’s an outrage to hear that some congressional leaders want to strip every dollar for affordable housing and home- and community-based services for older Americans out of the legislation,” Sloan said. “Any infrastructure bill that goes forward must provide for safe and affordable housing designed specifically for older Americans, as well as home- and community-based services.”

The American Jobs Plan includes $400 billion for HCBS, along with $213 million to support affordable housing. A fact sheet released last week by the administration revealed that the White House is seeking $2 billion for the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly Program. Those dollars, according to LeadingAge, would be used to increase the supply of affordable housing by 22,000 “desperately needed” homes with supportive services for very low-income older Americans.

The Republican proposal eliminates more than $600 billion in support for older Americans, according to the association.

Expanding the supply of affordable senior housing is LeadingAge’s top housing policy priority. The association is seeking $2.5 billion to build and operate Section 202 housing as part of any infrastructure package. Sloan said that affordable senior housing is available only for one-third of eligible older adults.

Amy Schectman hedshot
Amy Schectman

Amy Schectman, president and CEO of 2Life Communities in Boston, said her group has waiting lists of seven to eight years for affordable housing.

“Without funding to develop more homes, it would take 37 years to clear our waiting list,” she said. “Unfortunately, many will die before we are able to welcome them into our community.”

Linda Couch, LeadingAge vice president for housing policy, said that given these long waiting lists and the effects of COVID-19 on older adults, there is a “clear connection between stable housing and health, and Congress has to make this a priority.”

“It’s incredibly disappointing to see that the Republican counteroffer not only excludes affordable housing funding but also relies on taking back much-needed relief dollars already provided by Congress,” Couch said.

Calling the Section 202 program the nation’s “flagship federal program” for affordable housing for older adults, Couch said it is critical for Congress to support additional funding to the program to increase housing stock, provide age-friendly retrofits to existing housing, expand the number of onsite service coordinators, and support broadband internet access for telehealth and fighting social isolation.

Kimberly Black King hedshot
Kimberly Black King

Kimberly Black King, senior vice president of real estate development for Alexandria, VA-based Volunteers of America National Services, said that the HUD Section 202 program has proven to be the “most powerful tool” to support the cost of resident coordinators.

“The country is at that critical point for putting in place the tools necessary to create and preserve affordable housing options and connections to healthcare so seniors can age appropriately in place,” King said. 

Urban Institute researchers recently suggested the need for an expansion of the Section 202 program in a blog post, which points to projections that the number of adult renters will increase by 5.5 million in the next 20 years.