Affordable housing is more important than ever for low income seniors and low income families.
A recent Appellate Division‚Äôs decision provides an important opportunity for municipalities to utilize much-needed housing trust funds to address the chronic shortage of affordable housing for low-income seniors across the state in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Many of these funds were specifically designated for the development of senior housing in the nine counties hardest hit by the storm. This includes 131 senior units in Monmouth County, 6 special needs unit for the elderly by Cerebral Palsy of North Jersey in Livingston, Essex County; and 5 senior rental by Catholic Charities in Harrison, Hudson County.
The court‚Äôs decision comes at a critical time in this state‚Äôs history with the high demand for affordable senior housing and the rising cost of living. In just three short years, the cost of living for seniors living in a one bedroom apartment on a fixed income in New Jersey has increased 8 percent, according to data released in 2012 by the New Jersey Foundation for Aging (NJFA).
The cost of living for a single renter over the age of 65 was $25,941 in 2009. That same renter, living in the same one-bedroom apartment, saw her cost of living quickly climb more than $2,000 to $27,960, by 2012. However, there was not a comparable rise in income or Social Security.¬† Seniors on fixed incomes have been plagued in recent years with rising expenses for housing, transportation and health care. In many cases this has resulted in a rise in senior hunger and even homelessness. Their highest cost is their housing expenses.
Twenty five percent of all seniors in our state rely on Social Security as their only income. So NJ seniors can least afford the trend in rising expenses. The result is a widening of the gap between basic living expenses and their income. The NJ Elder Economic Index details these costs for seniors in each of the 21 NJ counties. These details indicate how seniors are faring in the slow economy. The latest data shows that 250,000 seniors over the age of 65 in New Jersey ‚Äì representing 42 percent of single and elderly couples living in the community ‚Äì do not have the money to cover their basic costs. Sixty-four percent of people in this group are women.
The report, known as the NJ Elder Economic Index, indicates that the average Social Security for a woman being $14,848. But average living expenses for a one-bedroom apartment in New Jersey has reached the $27,960 mark. So how can we expect to call these the golden years if elders must choose between food, heat, shelter or prescriptions? Even if a person worked and saved for retirement this rise in costs are unprecedented and these elders are one step from their own ‚Äòfiscal cliff‚Äô. The New Jersey Foundation for Aging wants to alert and connect elders to resources in their community that might ease the financial strain they may be feeling each day.¬†
A woman receiving $14,848 from Social Security as her sole income with the average costs of a one bedroom apartment at $27,960 is only 53% economically secure.¬† At this income level she would be eligible for several food and nutrition programs, as well utility assistance programs. These programs would improve her quality of life and enable her to use her income to cover more of her basic living costs, but she would still fall short of meeting her costs by 21%. The only public benefit program that would help her to close the gap is affordable housing.¬†
The most costly portion of an elder‚Äôs monthly expenses is their housing. More than 46 percent of their income must go towards their housing, taxes and utilities.¬† This highlights the need for more affordable housing. The state‚Äôs housing shortage has been documented for several decades. And the need for affordable housing in the community for people of all ages has only been further stressed by the recent storms and floods across the state. Public awareness is a key component to help local advocates, state policy makers, municipal leaders and planners address current and future needs. Where you live at age 65 or 70? ¬†Persons over age 75 and older have even fewer income assets. Where will your parents live at age 85?
If these funds are not protected and utilized, Otherwise low-income seniors and low-income families will continue to be displaced by Sandy and homeless for many years to come. Each municipality‚Äôs affordable housing trust funds are needed now more than ever for the development of new housing because of the impact of hurricane Sandy. We cannot afford to be silent on this issue. Elders who have been active in their community who want to downsize need affordable housing options; working families who want good schools and safe streets need affordable housing; health care workers who want to be close to their work and patients need affordable housing. A healthy blend of housing types is crucial to nurture a community‚Äôs cultural and social vitality as well as its economic base. ‚ÄúNJ Strong‚Äù must include affordable housing options to serve it residents and to build back the local economy.
*this was submitted and printed as an op-ed in the Asbury Park Press on 6/19/13 by Grace Egan, Executive Director, NJFA