Virtual Roundtable – Dismantling Barriers to Housing for America's Seniors & People w/ Disabilities


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On Wednesday, September 2, 2020, from 3:00 p.m. (ET) Representative Katie Porter will host a virtual roundtable entitled, “Dismantling Barriers to Housing for America’s Seniors and People with Disabilities.”
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Witness for this one-panel hearing will be:

• Linda Couch, Vice President of Housing Policy, LeadingAge
• Sara Pratt, Counsel, Relman Colfax, PLLC, Former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing Enforcement and Programs at HUD
• Allison Donald, Memphis Center for Independent Living
• Kelsey Brewer, Communications and Policy Manager, Jamboree Housing

Shortage of Affordable, Accessible, and Integrated Housing for Seniors and People with
The United States’ housing stock is not meeting the needs of seniors and people with disabilities as many of them struggle to find housing that is affordable, accessible, and located in integrated residential settings. As the nation’s older population increases and federal investment into housing solutions to meet their needs has remained largely stagnant, these challenges are becoming more acute.

There are nearly 11 million extremely low-income (ELI) renter households in the U.S., of which nearly half (46 percent) are seniors or people with disabilities. ELI renters disproportionately struggle to afford their rent—in fact there is a shortage of 7 million homes that are affordable and available to them, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. As a result, these renters are forced to spend most of their income on rent.

Among seniors receiving Social Security, 21 percent of married couples and about 45 percent of unmarried individuals rely on Social Security for 90 percent or more of their income. Social Security Insurance provides individuals with disabilities $783 per month and Social Security retirement benefits provide an average of $1,514 per month, but the national average monthly rent for a modest one-bedroom apartment is $1,022. Even for people with disabilities who are able to work, their income is significantly lower compared to people without disabilities. While homeownership can help provide greater stability in housing costs, due in part to the impacts of the foreclosure crisis post-2008, many older Americans were pushed out of homeownership and are going into retirement as renters.

Accessible housing6 serves as an important platform for delivering supportive services to seniors and people with disabilities. Accessible housing allows these individuals, who are more likely to develop mobility impairments as they age, to remain in their homes and receive community-based care instead of needing to move to nursing homes or other institutional settings. For seniors and persons with disabilities who have limited mobility, finding suitable housing can be significantly more challenging because their options are limited to a small portion of the national housing stock that is built to be accessible to them unless they have the resources to finance the modifications themselves. According to the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, only 3.5 percent of homes in America had a step-free entry, a single-floor layout, and wider doors and hallways. A HUD analysis of 2011 American Housing Survey data found that less than 1 percent of the U.S. housing stock was wheelchair accessible.

Federal investment has helped to expand the supply of accessible housing for seniors and persons with disabilities who have limited mobility. One study found that public housing and privately owned subsidized rental units were 2.5 times more likely than owner-occupied units to be accessible for people with moderate mobility issues, and privately-owned subsidized housing was three times more likely to be wheelchair accessible.

Due to the limited stock of accessible housing, seniors and persons with disabilities who develop mobility issues or exacerbated mobility issues over time, will often face displacement from their neighborhood or community altogether if they are unable to make modifications to their current home. Unfortunately, HUD estimates that only about a third of homes in the U.S. could be modified, the majority of which are located in newer or multifamily buildings. Additionally, while there are federal programs that can provide some funding for home modifications (see discussion below), most people shoulder the costs themselves. The National Association of Homebuilders estimates that 80 percent of home modifications are paid for out of pocket and…

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