A Matter of Perspective
~ Author: Dr. Laverne Joseph, Former President and CEO Retirement Housing Foundation
The HUD 202 program, which provides affordable housing for older adults, has been around for more than 50 years. Many of RHF’s communities have been built under that program.
The program provides funds for construction. Persons who are at 50% of the area median income and 62 years or older pay 30% of their income as their share of the rent, and the balance to keep the building operational is paid by a subsidy from HUD.
In the late 70s and early 80s, Congress was providing funding for about 20,000 new apartments annually. In spite of the demographics showing that the number of individuals over the age of 65 will double in the next 30 years in our nation, the number of new units has diminished over the years to about 4,000 in a combined 2010-2011 allocation.
And for 2012 Congress funded no new units and they have not reinstated it in any budget since. For years there have been proposals to defund the program – but elected representatives, from both sides of the aisle, have ALWAYS considered it a vital program worthy of federal funding.
Once when I was in DC to testify on the housing program in the afternoon, that morning I attended a press conference in which former Missouri Senator Kit Bond talked about how the Senate had reinstated the program on a vote of 96 to 0. He said, ”When you get that kind of vote you know it’s not a matter of politics; it’s a matter of morals.”
It is a matter of morals but it is also a matter of perspective.
Another time when I testified before the House Banking Committee on the need for the program, during the question and answer time one member said to me, “It’s a great program, but tell us where do we get the money.” I responded,” First of all, I am not anti-military but it’s a matter of perspective: one B-1 bomber is all we ask.” They looked at each other and nodded their heads and the program was funded that year.
We know that we have major financial challenges as a nation, but I remembered the above experiences when I heard about the building of a billion dollar embassy in Iraq and we’re told we’re going to build a billion-dollar embassy in London as well. Maybe we should be building $500 million embassies around the world and putting the balance toward vital stateside programs like the HUD 202 program!
During all the debates about stimulus funding, I kept saying we should put some of those funds into the affordable housing program because they will create temporary construction jobs, permanent management, and maintenance jobs, AND address a critical social need at the same time. I had a real-life illustration of this when we were celebrating RHF’s 50th anniversary in our Arizona communities.
We were holding our celebration at Verde View in Camp Verde and Mayor Bob Burnside spoke about how his supervisor, Darwin Rushton, worked on the plumbing in Verde View when it was under construction in 1990 and then went on to establish his own firm, Yavapai Plumbing, and Electrical. I spoke with Mr. Rushton who said that the firm is now Yavapai Mechanical and operated by his son, Jeremy. They employ 35 persons and have worked on numerous HUD buildings as well as other construction projects in Arizona. It proved my argument.
It also makes good economic sense for the nation and states.
When older adults living only on Social Security need more intense services their only other choice may be to go to a nursing home on Medicaid. To maintain them in affordable housing, with Social Service Coordinators connecting them with low- or no-cost services, costs government about 30% of what it would cost to have them in a nursing home on Medicaid.
Today there are 48 million persons in the USA 65 or older. By 2030 there will be 72 Million and by 2050, 88 million and many will be below the poverty line. Imagine what Medicaid will cost government and us as taxpayers then.
Already AARP reports that there are 11 persons on waiting lists for every vacancy which occurs in a HUD 202 building.
What do we do about this? All of us—residents, staff, board members, sponsors, churches, synagogues, business partners, families, friends, and neighbors—need to write and telephone our members of Congress and tell them it’s a matter of morals and it’s a matter of perspective as to how we choose to spend our tax dollars.
There are lots of dollars wasted and lots of foolish expenses, but dollars allocated for the HUD 202 program make good economic and moral sense!