HUD Secretary Ben Carson

Despite the national trend of declining worst case needs, the number of elderly households experiencing severe housing problems has steadily increased over the past decade, according to a new report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

According to the “Worst Case Housing Needs: 2019 Report to Congress,” the overall number of households with worst case housing needs declined by 7% between 2015 and 2017. But worst case housing needs among older adults increased by more than 4% — an increase of about 80,000 older adult households.

“Our nation has undervalued and under-invested in older adults for decades,” LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan said. “As the older population continues to grow, housing assistance programs are not keeping pace — and we are now seeing the results.”

“Worst case housing needs” households are very low income renter households paying more than half of their income toward housing costs. Although they are eligible for housing assistance, they are not receiving it because programs like HUD’s Section 202, Section 8 and public housing programs are too small to meet the need, according to LeadingAge.

Having a worst case housing need is a predictor of possible forthcoming increases in homelessness and severe housing poverty, the organization maintains.

“We implore Congress — do not overlook this critical finding. It foreshadows an avoidable future for some of the most vulnerable older adults in our country — a future made even more perilous given the outsized impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on this population,” Sloan said. “By expanding programs like HUD’s flagship Section 2020 Housing for the Elderly, our leaders can help ensure that every older adult has a quality place to call home.”

The report states that the increase in worst case housing needs among older adults is largely due to the growing population of very low income older adult renter households. And although four in 10 very low income elderly households received housing assistance in 2019, “aging baby boomers are likely to continue to be a key demographic facing housing problems in the years to come,” according to the report.

Sloan said the real blame rests in policymakers’ failure to prepare for the surge in older adult households known to be coming for decades.