Urban Research Monitor
The Need for Affordable Options

The writers and editors of both publications are acutely aware that tomorrow's low-income seniors, a largely minority population, will not have the same housing options available to wealthier older Americans. The Joint Center posits that today's dramatic disparities in wealth will follow the baby-boom generation into retirement and reproduce the current gap in access to decent, affordable housing seen among today's seniors.

According to the Joint Center, although approximately 20 percent of those 70 or older in the 1990s had a net worth of more than $200,000, an equally large percentage had a net worth of less than $25,000. This gap in wealth foreshadows a continuation of the problem found in HUD's Housing Our Elders: A Report Card on the Housing Conditions and Needs of Older Americans (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Policy Development and Research, November 1999), which concludes that high costs are the most widespread housing problem among older Americans, with more than 7.4 million households paying more than they can afford. As a result, policymakers fear that without government intervention, housing opportunities for low-income seniors will remain fixed on the two extremes of the eldercare continuum—no assistance or nursing home care.

Affordability is a particular concern in the case of assisted-living facilities. In his essay on the promise of assisted living in Advances in Assisted Living, Stephen Golant discusses the costs of living in an assisted community. He cites figures found by two of the Big Eight accounting firms in 1993 showing that minimum accommodation costs usually were more than $800 per month (generally between $1,500 and $2,000). Most facilities also charged a one-time, upfront entrance fee that averaged more than $22,000. These numbers do not include expenses for personal care services, which, according to the Joint Center, total approximately $1,300 per month.

Many states are beginning to subsidize assisted-living facilities for the low-income elderly through Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income, and the federal government is looking at various ways to help out as well—from converting existing Section 202 housing units to allowing housing vouchers to cover the rental portion of assisted-living costs. But greater state and federal involvement may result in greater regulation and licensure, which in turn could force standardization and regimentation. This, according to Golant, is perhaps the greatest threat to the assisted-living market because it would destroy the very thing that makes it unique—its ability to provide performance-based care.

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