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Senior housing likely to fall short of future needs

    A new crisis is developing among the burgeoning, elderly population, who face the prospect of growing older without enough adequate housing stock to accommodate their unique needs.
    It’s a situation that’s going to place a considerable strain on families, community resources and the economy in general, experts say, and the clock is ticking.
    Jonathan Becker, executive director of Senior Services Plus in Alton, says every new census reflects the growing  trend. Conservatively, national estimates predict that the population of people 60 and older could go up by 30 percent in 14 years.
    “But Illinois is the fifth-most populated state and on average has a higher population of seniors, so it could be closer to 50 percent (increase in Illinois). We could go up here from 53,000 to 80,000, easily,” Becker said, referring to Madison County’s population over 60.
    And the country is not prepared to meet the housing needs of older citizens, according to a new report released by the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies and AARP Foundation.
    According to “Housing America’s Older Adults — Meeting the Needs of an Aging Population,” the number of adults in the U.S. aged 50 and over is expected to grow to 132 million by 2030, an increase of more than 70 percent since 2000.
    Housing that is affordable, physically accessible and coordinated with supports and services is in too short supply, the report concludes. Much of the nation’s housing inventory lacks basic accessibility features, such as no-step entries, extra-wide doorways, and lever-style door and faucet handles.
    And, in general, the older people become, the less access they will have to affordable, accommodating housing.
    Looking down the road, baby boomers now in their 50s might be most at risk. With lower incomes, wealth, homeownership rates, and more debt than previous generations, individuals may not be able to cover the costs of appropriate housing or long-term care, the report says.
    Older homeowners appear to be in a better spot than older renters. The typical homeowner age 65 and over has enough wealth to cover the costs of in-home assistance for nearly nine years or assisted living for 6.5 years. The typical renter can only afford two months of such support, the report says.
    High housing costs are forcing an estimated one third of adults 50 and older to pay more than 30 percent of their income for homes that may not fit their needs, forcing them to cut back on food, health care and retirement savings.
    Devon Neal, community based services director at Senior Services Plus, said she sees the challenges firsthand.
    “A lot of clients come to us because they are really struggling financially and they are trying to seek out whatever resources are available to them, whether it’s a veteran, or one of many, many women who are living alone. Probably about 60 percent of the women we see are 65 and above. They don’t have any family support. Their children live out of the area. Many are on the verge of being evicted.
    “That’s where we can help them, whether it’s us directly ourselves or by connecting them with the people that can. We have many, many partners. We’re usually able to see a person from beginning to end,” Neal said.
    Senior Services refers many people to places such as: Madison County Community Development, which has homeless and other care programs (618) 692-8940 ; Illinois Department of Aging, which has a senior helpline (1-800-252-8966);  and many others, including the Area Agency on Aging of Southwestern Illinois (800-326-3221).
    Neal said a housing guide produced by the Madison County Continuum of Care  is made available for Senior Services Plus’ clientele. People can reach Senior Services at (618)  465-3298.
    “We do have some wonderful resources in the area,” she said, ticking off the likes of Marian Heights, Skyline Towers and other locally based senior living apartments.
    Becker said he recently sat down with the allocations panel from the United Way of Greater St. Louis and was asked about the issue of homelessness for seniors, indicative that other agencies are worrying about the future.
    “The United Way is always trying to target trends, but they hadn’t really asked us about this issue before,” he said.
    Becker said a lot of “high-energy businesses” are investing in the aging market,  but many are focused on the baby boomers with disposable income, “not the significant number of seniors who live at the poverty level,” a number that will continue to grow. United Way and many other non profits — like his own agency — expect to have to address those gaps, he said.
    “I think there’s a lot more people in the 50 to 65 range that don’t have savings,” he said. “We see a lot of people now who don’t have anything but Social Security. I don’t know what they are going to do in 30 years when Social Security gets reduced or they can’t control Medicare costs. When they describe the aging situations as a silver tsunami, they aren’t far off. There are a lot of issues coming. There’s just not a lot of answers,” he said.
    In a statement released with the recent report, Chris Herbert, acting managing director of the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, said recognizing the implications of the demographic shift and taking immediate steps to address these issues “is vital to our national standard of living. While it is ultimately up to individuals and their families to plan for future housing needs, it is also incumbent upon policy makers at all levels of government to see that affordable, appropriate housing, as well as supports for long-term aging in the community, are available for older adults across the income spectrum.”
    Asked for a prediction regarding future years, Neal said agencies like Senior Services Plus will be increasingly focused on providing the support that allows people to stay in their own homes as long as possible.
    Those services would include things like cooking, cleaning, running errands, or transportation for health services.
    “Many women aren’t comfortable driving at certain times of the day or they feel awkward taking public transit. Or, if you have a disability, just going to go out shopping can be extremely difficult. Finding resources to help people stay in their homes is going to be a major trend that we are going to see.”
    She also stressed the need for wellness/fitness and employment/volunteer programs to assist people in improving their health and then to help them find satisfying employment or volunteer opportunities to enrich their lives and sustain them financially.

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