Bill Would Increase Availability of Affordable Housing with Support Services

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI), chairman of the Special Committee on Aging, joined witnesses at today's Senate Banking Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation, and Community Development hearing in touting the merits of S.118, a bill to expand and improve the Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly Program, which provides capital grants to non-profit community organizations for the development of supportive housing and provision of rental assistance exclusively for low-income seniors.  This program supplies housing and supportive services that allow low-income seniors to remain safely in their homes. Kohl reintroduced the bill in January with U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY).
"Over one-third of the Section 202 population is considered disabled enough to be at risk for being put in a nursing home," Senator Kohl. "By reducing the need for costly nursing home stays, access to supportive services saves both seniors and the government money."
"This is a common-sense proposal that will help seniors in New York and across the nation live with dignity in a home they can call their own," Senator Schumer said. "Right now, the housing programs in place for seniors are inadequate compared with the demand. By making a few changes to the current law, we can greatly expand and improve housing options for seniors."
There are over 300,000 seniors living in 6,000 Section 202 developments across the country, with ten seniors vying for each housing unit that becomes available. It is expected that approximately 730,000 additional senior housing units will be needed by 2020 in order to address the housing needs of low-income seniors. At this point the program is not expected to meet the future demand. To compound the problem, many older Section 202 properties are being converted by developers of higher-priced condominiums and apartments. As a result, seniors currently participating in the program could be at risk for homelessness. 
S.118, also known as the Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly Act of 2009, would promote the construction of new senior housing facilities, as well as preserve and improve upon existing facilities. The bill would also support the conversion of existing facilities into assisted-living facilities that provide a wide variety of additional supportive health and social services.  Under current law, these processes are time-consuming and bureaucratic, often requiring waivers and special permission from HUD. Finally, the legislation provides priority consideration for homeless seniors seeking a place to call their own. 
Senators Kohl and Schumer have long been supportive of low-income senior housing. Last Congress, they successfully included provisions in the Housing Economic and Recovery Act of 2008 (PL 110-289) that would ensure Section 202 grants could be administered through the state housing finance agencies in order to streamline the administration of the grants. In addition, the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee included a major Kohl-Schumer provision that would make it easier to refinance older Section 202 developments, many of which were built in the 1960s and are in need of repair, by allowing building owners to use proceeds from refinancing to improve and rehabilitate the facilities.
Witnesses at today's hearing included Congressman Christopher Murphy (D-CT); Ann O'Hara, Housing Advisor at the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Housing Task Force; Michelle Norris, Senior Vice President for Development and Acquisition of National Church Residences, on behalf of American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging; Michael Jones, the parent of a son with a disability from Brick, New Jersey; Toby Halliday, Vice President for Public Policy at the National Housing Trust; Sheila Crowley, President and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
This legislation has been endorsed by the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, America Association of Service Coordinators, Alliance for Retired Americans, National Council on Aging, National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, Elderly Housing Development and Operations Corporation, Association of Jewish Family & Children's Agencies, Catholic Charities, Lutheran Services in America, National Affordable Housing Management Association, National Church Residences, National Housing Trust, National Low Income Housing Coalition, Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future, United Jewish Communities, and Volunteers of America.
Specifically, the bill will address the affordable senior housing shortage by:
·          Streamlining mixed financing deals to reduce the development time for new Section 202 developments;
·          Making it easier to refinance Section 202 developments, which may be in need of rehabilitation;
·          Providing greater flexibility to owners to transform unmarketable efficiencies into rentable one-bedroom units;
·          Expanding existing/potential streams of funding that can further the home's mission of providing housing and supportive services;
·          Establishing a new project-based rental assistance program for seniors at risk of losing their homes due to possible rent increases;
·          Creating a mortgage sale demonstration project to determine if state financing agencies can do a better job of asset management and refinancing than HUD;
·          Making it easier for owners to convert properties into assisted living facilities that make health and supportive services available to residents; and
·          Creating a national clearinghouse of senior housing facilities to ease the search for seniors and their families.
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