Caregiver and elderly man reading paperwork
(Credit: FredFroese / Getty Images)

A new bill intended to expand and improve service coordination programs in affordable housing was introduced this week, adding a potential funding mechanism for tax credit-financed housing.

The Expanding Service Coordinators Act, which LeadingAge helped develop, would increase funding for federal service coordinator grant programs and make improvements to training and retention opportunities. Reps. Adam Smith (D-WA), Joyce Beatty (D-OH) and Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) reintroduced the legislation, calling it a “critical workforce initiative.”

In affordable senior housing, service coordinators connect older adults to a wide range of social services, including healthcare, meals, transportation and education.

“Service coordinators play a critical role in ensuring seniors and individuals with disabilities have access to affordable assisted living and other social services,” American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living Senior Director Christopher Donnellan said in a statement. “At NCAL, increasing the availability of affordable assisted living is one of our main priorities.”

Fewer than half of the properties in the Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly program — the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s flagship affordable senior housing program — have a service coordination program, according to LeadingAge. Lack of funding and streamlined guidance from HUD create barriers for housing providers that want to provide service coordination to residents.

A House of Representatives FY24 HUD funding proposal cut 15% from the Section 202 program, eliminating funding for new service coordinator grants. 

Service coordinators a ‘linchpin’ for older adults

“Communities with service coordination see a service coordinator making the difference for that older adult to be able to age independently in the community longer,” LeadingAge Director of Housing Operations and Policy Juliana Bilowich said during a Wednesday call with members. 

Bilowich said that the bill creates new service coordination grants for affordable senior housing developed through Low-Income Housing Tax Credits, which has no clear funding mechanism for service coordinators. The LIHTC program has been used to provide assisted living housing and care to lower-income residents. Coupled with a Medicaid waiver or even a Section 8 housing voucher, senior living can become a viable option for low-income older adults, she said.

“Service coordinators are the linchpin connecting low-income older residents living in federally assisted housing to such critical services as transportation and physician appointments,” LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan said in a statement. “The work they do helps to educate older adults’ need for emergency room visits, longer stays in the hospital or transfers to higher levels of care.”

Specifically, the bill would:

  • Provide an additional $100 million each year for five years to the Multi-Family Housing Service Coordinator program.
  • Provide $5 million each year for five years to the Resident Opportunity and self-Sufficiency service coordinator program.
  • Create a new $37 million grant program through the Health Resources and Services Administration to award 150 grants to eligible properties to fund service coordinators.
  • Establish a training set aside to improve training and retention of service coordinators. “It’s a challenging job. There are specific training requirements,” Bilowich said. “It’s hard to hire a service coordinator; and once a position is vacant, it’s hard to backfill it.”
  • Offer student loan forgiveness to services coordinators.
  • Direct the US Government Accountability Office to study the availability and work of service coordinators in rural areas.

“Increasing the role of service coordinators can improve quality of life, address isolation and help the most vulnerable stay housed,” Bonamici said in a statement

Two surveys from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies found that service coordinators are integral to helping residents navigate services and limit pandemic disruptions. A study by LeadingAge and the Lewin Group found that the availability of an on-site service coordinator, such as a social worker, at federally subsidized senior housing reduced hospital admissions among residents by 18%.

In addition to  LeadingAge and NCAL, the reintroduced bill is endorsed by owner/operators HumanGood, Embrace Living Communities, United Church Homes and National Church Residences; the American Association of Service Coordinators; LGBTQ+ elder advocacy group SAGE; and other aging services-related organizations and providers.