Low Income Senior Apartments In - As federal funding for affordable senior housing has dwindled, competition is increasing to secure the remaining money. This means that it can take years to get a community up and running.
In Philadelphia's Kingsessing neighborhood, Presby's Inspired Life, a local nonprofit, recently opened Witherspoon Senior Apartments, which provides affordable housing for adults 62 and older. Many affordable homes face long waiting lists. Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI / Staff photographer
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When the line started moving on a warm Tuesday morning in June, nearly a dozen seniors had been waiting for almost a day.
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They gathered in South Philadelphia — by the end, scores of them, most over 62 — to try to secure one of the new, affordable senior housing units coming up near Fourth and Snyder streets. Many had started setting up the afternoon before with their lawn chairs and sun hats. Waiting hours — even overnight — seemed a small price to pay, they thought, for a chance at safe, clean housing they could afford.
In fact, most of them waited much longer than 24 hours. The new development, called Cantrell Place, has been in the works since 2011 when Montgomery County-based developer Presby's Inspired Life envisioned the senior living community. Before finally opening its doors in December, Presby spent time drawing up plans, gathering land and applying over and over again for financing.
The 61 one-bedroom units, which accommodate seniors earning as little as $12,240 and as much as $36,708 a year, have been more than seven years in the making.
For seniors living in the surrounding neighborhoods, this meant living in townhouses with too many stairs or too much space to maintain. Some stayed in properties crumbling from decay. Others saw their incomes drop and the cost of living rise, leaving them in homes they could no longer afford.
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But in today's affordable housing landscape, seven years to complete a project can be considered the norm. Government funding for this type of project has continued to decline. The competition for what remains has intensified. Non-profit and for-profit affordable housing developers often have to repeatedly apply for the limited public money. If they don't get it, experts say, it's hard for affordable housing projects to continue.
The issue has become particularly problematic for senior citizens. A majority of the massive baby boom generation, defined as those born between 1946 and 1964, are in their 60s, with several million boomers now in their 70s. According to the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, the population aged 65 and older is expected to rise to 73 million by 2030, an increase of 33 million in two decades.
But the problem is much bigger than the growing demand. It is no longer uncommon for people to live into their 80s and beyond, which means that housing is needed longer than it once was. At the same time, the number of elderly low-income households is growing, according to the Harvard study, with those earning less than $15,000 a year increasing by 39 percent between 2000 and 2016.
The result, experts say: a senior housing affordability crisis — one that is expected to worsen in the coming years.
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"The subsidies haven't really kept up with the growth in that population," said Robert Silverman, a professor at the University of Buffalo and an expert on affordable housing. "Without funding for affordable housing development, what developers were left with as options — and the types of options they were pursuing — was really market-rate housing trending toward the high-rent market."
Isabella Kelly is a two-time cancer survivor, suffers from spinal stenosis and has a broken ankle that landed her in the hospital.
That's why, she believes, she stayed in her crumbling West Philadelphia home for so long. For years she had no heat - and finally her furnace broke down trying to stay warm. Water from her leaking roof filled buckets and bags. And when she came home from the hospital after ankle surgery in 2017, she found her kitchen ceiling with a gaping hole in it.
"One day I saw things falling from the ceiling, and I looked up and there was a raccoon looking at me," Kelly said. "I yelled and it just stood there. And then the second time ... it was on top of the closet. I had a 2-by-4 up there and some heavy cardboard nailed to the ceiling, but I couldn't sleep. I thought, 'What if I wake up and it's on my chest?'
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So in the summer of 2017, Kelly applied to Presby for a low-income apartment. But like thousands of other seniors looking for affordable housing in the region, she was told there is a waiting list — one that could take years to reduce.
At Presby's affordable senior communities, as well as other senior communities in the region, applicants face waiting lists that are often hundreds of people long. At Presby, for example, almost 4,200 people are waiting to move into the 2,451 places they offer in the 36 communities they develop or manage.
The wait, a spokesman said, can typically be several years. Kelly finally got a place at a community in Southwest Philadelphia just days before Christmas — about a year and a half after she applied.
The Philadelphia Housing Authority said its waiting list for affordable senior housing is 11,262 people long — meaning applicants can expect to wait between five and 10 years for a spot in one of its 2,100 seniors-only apartments. However, for physically disabled seniors, PHAs can usually move them into accessible units within a year, a spokeswoman said.
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(PHA classifies seniors as people 55 and older, compared to Presby, which has a minimum age of 62 for its residents.)
"Demand is really high," said Vidhi Anderson, executive director of housing and land development at Presby. "I think there will be a bit of a bottleneck with financing. It is extremely limited and extremely competitive. … It is not for the faint of heart.”
When developers of affordable senior housing want to build a new community today, their options for much of the financing come down largely to one: low-income housing tax credits, administered by the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency.
For decades, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has funded new affordable housing projects for the elderly through its Supportive Housing for the Elderly program, known as Section 202. The program began in 1959 and provided nearly 400,000 new units for low-income elderly households produced over its lifetime, estimates SKIN. Yet the program was cut by several million dollars in 2012, eliminating the ability to use Section 202 for new projects. Current funding only supports existing nursing homes, and funding was cut further in 2016-17, Harvard says.
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Each year, the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency receives about $30 million in housing tax credits from the federal government, for which developers can apply in amounts as large as $1.25 million. If selected, the developers then transfer those credits to investors and companies in exchange for millions of dollars in equity. In return, the investors can use the credits as a discount against future taxes.
Last year, developers of 98 affordable housing projects across the state submitted an application for tax credits. Slightly more than a third - a total of 39 - were selected.
Ted Wasserman, president of Montgomery County-based Wasserman Properties, was an applicant who was denied last year. He hopes to build a 44-unit low-income housing complex called Frankford House in Philadelphia's Frankford neighborhood, which he says will provide social and health care services in addition to housing.
He has already said he has sunk nearly $150,000 into planning his project. He recently applied again. But with equally aggressive competition – 86 applicants – there's no guarantee he'll get the money this year.
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"All types of affordable housing are going after the same pot of money," Wasserman said. "And there are stories of people who have applied three or four times."
Anderson van Presby knows what it's like. For the organization's Witherspoon senior housing project in Southwest Philadelphia, which also opened its doors in late 2018, Presby applied three years in a row before being awarded tax credits. And then it still needed funding from the city, as well as private money, to cover the full cost of the project.
With a series of retirees also camping out for the rent-subsidized project, Presby had the 60 units filled in a matter of days. Finding a senior apartment on a budget can be difficult, but it's much easier if you know where to look and what to do to apply. For those looking for senior housing in the Columbus, GA area, there are many great options and the city of Columbus, GA is a great place for seniors.
In addition to the fact that the city offers residents a nice place to live, it is very affordable. In addition, the government and the U.S. The Department of Urban Housing and Development (HUD) has launched several housing programs to support
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