Analysis: Affordable senior housing becoming harder to find

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A new analysis finding that it is becoming more difficult for older adults to afford housing has been released just as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announces a proposed rule and the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passes legislation designed to free up affordable housing units.

The number of older-adult households where rent and utility costs total more than half of before-tax household income has outpaced the growth in the overall senior population during the past decade, according to a new analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data by Make Room, a renters' advocacy group.

Between 2005 and 2014, the overall population of people aged 65 or more years increased by 25% nationwide, from 22.5 million to 28.1 million, whereas the number of seniors paying more than half of their before-tax household income toward rent and utilities increased by 34%, from 1.4 million to 1.8 million, according to the organization.

“Rising, unaffordable rents are jeopardizing older Americans' retirement security, including the ability to stay in their homes and communities, and to afford healthcare and medicine,” said Angela Boyd, managing director of Make Room.

Make Room is encouraging policymakers to protect and expand programs that designed to keep housing affordable for older adults, such as the low-income housing tax credit and the national Section 8 rental assistance program. Senior households make up 29% of those living in housing credit properties, according to Make Room, and older adults make up 22% of Section 8 voucher recipients.

The accompanying table shows the top 10 large U.S. metropolitan areas with the largest upswing in senior “severely burdened renters” from 2005 to 2014, according to Make Room's analysis.

Make Room's analysis was released Feb. 1, the day before HUD announced a proposed rule that it says is designed to free up affordable housing units by ensuring that current residents truly need housing assistance, in cases where income grows “well beyond” the level that was required for initial admission. Current law and regulation do not require eviction or termination of residency in circumstances when a household's income increases significantly and consistently over time, even if that family pays full-market rent and receives no subsidy. 

HUD is seeking public comments on methods to address “over-income” public housing residents. They will be due 30 days after the rule is published in the Federal Register, which is expected to occur Feb. 3.

“Given the urgent need for affordable rental housing in many communities, HUD is considering ways to possibly limit public housing residency to those households that actually require housing assistance,” the agency stated in a media release.

Also Feb. 2, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed H.R. 3700, the Housing Opportunity Through Modernization Act introduced by Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO). If it becomes law, the legislation would change inspection and loan-approval practices of HUD and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, including limiting public housing tenancy for so-called over-income residents, among other actions.

“We are looking outside the box to streamline HUD and [Rural Housing Service] policies and eliminate duplicative programs and waste,” Luetkemeyer said.

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