Aging into homelessness
Living longer poses problems for people unable to keep up with rising housing costs
By Rebecca Kuzins 04/23/2014
The lack of affordable housing in Pasadena, a situation that has recently worsened due to severe reductions in funding, is expected to have particularly serious implications for the area’s aging baby boomers.
Many seniors, especially those who are on fixed incomes, do not have enough money to afford the area’s high-cost apartments and other rental housing. In addition, the unusually large number of baby boomers who are now entering their 60s, and the fact that many elderly people are living longer than before, will only intensify the affordable housing shortage.
“The majority of seniors in LA County do not have enough income to sustain a modest rental lifestyle assuming [they are in] good health,” said William K. Huang, the city’s housing director. “We do know the health of all seniors will deteriorate eventually; [that’s] not a pretty picture for our seniors. Most are not prepared for retirement and will likely outlive their financial resources by a long shot.”
As evidence for his remarks, Huang cites the California Elder Economic Security Index, published by the Insight Center for Community Economic Development, an Oakland-based advocacy group that seeks to bring low-income people out of poverty. The index measured the minimum income needed in 2011 to cover the basic living expenses for a retired person 65 years or older in each of the state’s 58 counties and in the city of Los Angeles.
The Los Angeles County index, which includes the Pasadena area, estimates that rent for a one-bedroom apartment was about $1,137 a month in 2011. When rent was combined with the average costs of food, health care, transportation and other expenses, basic expenses for seniors were $2,030 a month, or $24,360 a year.
Based on these calculations, the index report concludes: “Seniors — no matter what their source of income — often struggle to make ends meet in Los Angeles County. Neither the median Social Security payment nor the maximum Supplemental Security Income payment is enough to cover seniors’ basic needs.”
While some seniors qualify for financial aid because their incomes are at or below the federal poverty guidelines (FPG) — $11,670 for individuals to $40,090 for a family of eight — seniors with higher incomes are not eligible for these programs. “The problem is that the FPG is the same dollar amount across the country and does not reflect today’s cost of living,” the index report states. “Thousands of economically insecure seniors fall through the cracks of our public systems with too much income to qualify for help, but not enough to get by.”
The city of Pasadena has 1,128 affordable rental units for seniors in 13 projects, according to Jim Wong, a senior project manager for the city’s Housing and Career Services Department.
Although Huang says his department does not know how many affordable housing units are needed for seniors, “we know we need a lot more based on the fact Pasadena is rapidly aging, most seniors are struggling financially, and Pasadena rents are high and increasing.”
But while the demand for affordable housing for seniors is expected to climb, the supply has been drastically reduced due to recent cutbacks in federal, state and city funding. For example, in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2009 (FY 2009), Wong says the city received about $1.172 million in HOME grants from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD); that amount declined to $555,314 for the current FY 2014. A city requirement that developers building 10 or more housing units set aside 15 percent of those units for people with low or medium incomes generated about $1.373 million in FY 2009, compared with only $108,531 of these inclusionary funds in the current year.
Another massive blow to low-income senior housing was dealt in 2011, when state legislators and Gov. Jerry Brown eliminated the Pasadena Redevelopment Agency and more than 400 similar county and city organizations that traditionally provided funds for affordable housing. Since the break-up, redevelopment financing has significantly shrunk. Pasadena obtained about $2.926 million in FY 2009, compared to $291,512 in FY 2014, according to Wong.
Affordable housing advocates hoped passage of SB 1220 during the 2011-12 California legislative session would offset the decrease in governing funding. The bill would have imposed a $75 fee on the recordation of each real estate document in order to permanently finance a trust fund, which would support the construction, rehabilitation, and acquisition of housing for low- and moderate-income households. But the bill died in 2012 after it fell short of obtaining the 27 votes needed for adoption by the California Senate.
Proponents of affordable housing are now rallying behind a similar measure, SB 391, the California Homes and Jobs Act of 2013. Among other provisions, this bill once again seeks to impose a $75 recordation fee, which proponents maintain will generate an estimated $500 million in state “seed money” each year for affordable housing. The state Senate adopted the measure by a vote of 27-21 last May, and the bill must now be approved by the state Assembly.
Holly Benson, board president of the Southern California Association of Nonprofit Housing, says low-income housing proponents are also backing Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg’s recently announced proposal to direct 20 percent of cap-and-trade energy conservation funds to the development of affordable homes near public transit.
Benson is also vice president, housing and development, of Abode Communities, a nonprofit Los Angeles-based developer of affordable multifamily housing, Abode developed Hudson Oaks, a senior housing project located on Hudson Avenue adjacent to Washington Park in Pasadena.
The $17 million apartment project was completed in March 2012 and contains 44 one-bedroom units for seniors and a manager’s unit. The building’s 53 residents are aged 62 or older and have median annual incomes that are at or below 30 percent of HUD’s area median income for Los Angeles County, or $17,130 for one person and $19,560 for two people.
The city of Pasadena is also working with San Francisco-based Bridge Housing to develop Heritage Square, another low-income senior housing project, to be located on Fair Oaks Avenue between Orange Grove Boulevard and Painter Street. The project will have 70 apartments for seniors aged 62 or older who earn at or below 30 and 60 percent of area median income.
Bridge spokesperson Lyn Hikida says the project has been submitted to the California Tax Allocation Committee to enable Bridge to receive a 9 percent low-income housing tax credit. “We are hopeful that Heritage Square will receive an allocation in June 2014, and with that, would expect to close financing and commence construction within 180 days of the allocation,” she says. Leasing, she adds, is expected to begin around November 2015.
While these two projects provide some senior housing relief, Huang acknowledges a lot more is needed. “About 10,000 persons in the US turn 65 every day,” he says. “The boomers are becoming seniors and living longer. But the resources are not there to meet the whole need. Unfortunately, many seniors will live, and are living out their lives in poverty.”