Disciples News Service

Guest column: Housing costs issue for seniors

With the US population of older adults on track to double by 2025 and the growing number of elderly poor, the current housing crisis has hit seniors hard.  According to the Census Bureau, nationally, almost half of all seniors have incomes below 200 percent of the poverty threshold under the supplemental measure. Furthermore, the National Low Income Housing Coalition reports there is a deficit of 2.5 million units affordable to those below the very low income level. Christian Church Homes (CCH) recently published a call for attention to the dearth of affordable housing and its devastating effect on low income seniors.

by Don Stump, Christian Church Homes CEO and President

A review of the headlines in every major newspaper will quickly reveal strong and clear articles about our affordable housing crisis and how it is scheduled to get even worse.  These articles articulate the unreachable sales price of individual homes, and sky rocketing rents which are driving out the poor and working class families.  Basic housing and shelter is becoming nearly unattainable – a terrible situation for a healthy community.  Amazingly however, the even more severe plight of seniors living at the poverty line is rarely mentioned in these headline articles.  This leaves me with a haunting feeling that the crisis in affordable housing and supportive services for seniors is another case of, “An Inconvenient Truth” which we have been slow to recognize or respond to.

Here are a few sobering facts about “Seniors in Poverty”:

  • The population of seniors in the US is on an unstoppable track to double, sometimes referred to as the looming “Silver Tsunami” – going from 40,000,000 to 80,000,000. This is a worldwide issue.  This is the first time the planet has ever seen this demographic and socio/economic predicament. There is no historical precedent on how to plan for such a trend.
  • Within this group of seniors, the fastest growing sectors are the poor, and those over 85
  • The number of homeless seniors is forecasted to triple in the next decade.
  • During our most recent recessions, many seniors lost their retirement nest eggs permanently.
  • The concentration of wealth in the top 1 percent is having a compounding problem on retired seniors who cannot return to work and are pushed even further toward the fringe.

Here is a startling way to look at the economics.  The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) points out that 38 percent of people who work 40 hours a week make less than $18/hr.  CCH serves 5,500 seniors whose average income is less than $10,000 per year, $833 per month, $192/week.  If they were working 40 hours, that would be $4.81, or approximately 1/3 of the living wage.  Seniors in this position have to decide whether or not to buy a box of cereal at the dollar store, or this month’s blood pressure medicine.

I call upon editors to raise the visibility of this looming issue and draw it into the greater consciousness of our legislators and the public.  CCH is working to address the lack of housing and services for America’s aging population.  It’s time to break the silence and speak to the disaster facing our struggling geriatric population.