Garman Troup, Director, Housing and Home Improvement, Resources for Seniors, Inc. Sharon Peterson, Wake County Planning Office Caroline Lee, Project Management, Wake County Human Services Frances Turner, Family and Consumer Educator, NC Cooperative Extension, Wake County Center Gregg Warren, Executive Director, Downtown Housing Improvement Corporation
Key Issues Affordable Housing According to the 2003-2007 North Carolina Aging Services Plan, 31% of our state’s homeowners are age 60 and older; yet, among older homeowners, over 76,000 reported incomes for 1999 that were below poverty level. Among renters age 65 and over, 53% or almost 48,000 spent more than 30 percent of their household income on rent according to 2000 Census information.
The 1998-1999 Community Assessment Report for Wake County found that: “Wake County’s housing costs are among the nation’s highest. A serious shortage of affordable housing exists for people with very low incomes. A significant number of people in Wake County must pay a disproportionate percentage of their income for housing, leaving little for food, utilities, transportation, medical care, and clothing. Many people live on the edge: a single financial crisis – perhaps an illness or losing a job – often leads directly to eviction and homelessness.” The 2002 Community Assessment reported little improvement. “Rents and home prices are rising significantly faster than income in Wake County. Between 1990 and 1998 incomes have risen 34% while home prices have risen 52% and rents have risen 57%. If these trends continue, the relative affordability of housing in Wake County will continue to decline.” This statement has even more impact when you consider that incomes for people over 65 have increased even less than those of the general public.
One of the fifteen Focus Group questions posed to senior adults as part of the Elder Readiness Environmental Scan asked what they would like to change to make their communities more senior friendly. The second most frequent response seniors gave was “affordable senior housing”.
Housing for seniors not only needs to be affordable – it also must located in such a way as to allow access to available services. It has been noted that “… even in urban areas, many older people do not live close to existing bus lines, and thus are ineligible by reason of geography for any special services that exist” (The Mobility Needs of Older Americans, The Brookings Institution Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy). This problem is even more acute in the smaller towns and unincorporated areas of Wake County, where public transportation is either limited or nonexistent.
Home Repairs and Maintenance Seniors own their own homes in greater proportions than the population overall -- the homeownership rate for people over 65 in Wake County is 81% compared to 66% for the total population. However, many senior adults who own their own homes struggle to make needed home repairs and modifications because they are on fixed incomes. Consequently, repairs are either not made or must wait for extended periods of time until community service agencies can provide assistance.
Property Taxes Although property taxes in Wake County are comparatively low relative to some other parts of the country, they have become a burden for many senior homeowners, as property values have increased dramatically while their incomes have not.
Existing Resources and Challenges Affordable Housing Wake County is fortunate in having a number of subsidized and affordable rental housing complexes specifically for senior adults, located in Raleigh, Wake Forest, Fuquay-Varina, Holly Springs, Wendell, Garner, Apex, Zebulon and Cary. Subsidized units are those where rent is based on the senior’s income and is limited to no more than 30% of adjusted income; government subsidy makes up the difference. “Affordable” units have rents which may be somewhat below market rates but which are not adjusted based on the renter’s income; these rents range from about $400-600 a month for one-bedroom apartments at the present time. Both subsidized and affordable apartments require that the tenant’s income is below established limits; these limits are typically 40-60% of county median income.
Demand Exceeds Supply While there are approximately 1300 units of subsidized housing and 924 units of affordable housing for seniors, demand still exceeds supply, as shown by the fact that many complexes report that they have wait lists for openings. Wait lists of six months to as long as two years are typical. With the anticipated growth of the senior population, this problem can be expected to increase unless a significant number of new units is built.
Based on the projected growth of elderly and assuming one to two persons per household, we estimate that the total need for affordable rental units is as follows:
An additional 1,468 units by 2010 (or an average of 147 new units/year);
An additional 2,262 units by 2020 (or an average of 226 new units/year)
This translates to a total number of 3,730 additional affordable rental units between now and 2020. The need for additional affordable units is greatest for elderly persons with very low incomes (less than $20,000/year). This translates to rental units costing less than $500/month, including utilities (e.g., rents less than $375/month; utilities less than $125/month).
Section 8 Housing Choice vouchers allow eligible low-income seniors to access a wider variety of housing options; unfortunately, the demand for these vouchers far outstrips supply and wait lists are 3-4 years at present. Wake County Housing Authority has recently stopped even accepting new applications for the wait list.
Assisted Housing Seniors with higher monthly incomes, or significant assets, have additional housing options. Independent living rental retirement communities provide apartment or cottage living with supportive services such as meals in a common dining room, housekeeping, laundry and linen service, activities, and transportation. This type of housing can provide a transitional phase between fully independent living and assisted living in a long-term care facility. Unfortunately, there is no equivalent resource for seniors of more modest means, and no public assistance to help with costs. The subsidized and affordable apartments discussed above all require that the tenant is fully independent and able to prepare meals, clean the apartment, access public or private transportation, etc.
Home Repairs and Maintenance For seniors who own their homes, maintaining the home in good repair can be a major challenge due to physical limitations and financial constraints. Wake County’s seniors can receive assistance with minor home repairs related to health and safety through Resources for Senior’s Housing and Home Improvement Department. These repairs are provided on a sliding-scale basis, with the homeowner paying a percentage of the cost depending on their income. Volunteer programs can also assist with painting and other minor repairs. For more major repairs, loan and grant programs are available through the City of Raleigh, Wake County, and the USDA.
Weatherization and heating unit repair/replacement are available through the Weatherization Assistance program administered by the NC Office of Economic Opportunity and currently carried out by the Johnston-Lee-Harnett Community Action Program. Clients accessing this program must have incomes below 150% of federal poverty level, making it unavailable to a number of low-to-moderate income senior households.
Additional areas of unmet need, according to Resources for Seniors Information Department, include assistance with yard work, tree removal, and clean-up of storm debris. Low-income seniors must rely on family, neighbors, and other volunteer resources for these tasks.
Home Equity Conversion Mortgages Seniors who own their own homes and have significant equity accumulated may be able to use reverse mortgages to allow them to access their home value while they remain in the home. These specialized loans, designed for “house- rich, cash-poor” individuals over the age of 62, can provide either monthly income or a line of credit that can be used for any purpose. Mandatory, third-party counseling is provided to ensure that homeowners understand the program adequately and have considered all other available options before committing to a reverse mortgage. This counseling is available from Resources for Seniors. Several major lenders actively market reverse mortgages in Wake County.
Property Tax Exemption Low-income senior homeowners can benefit from the state’s property tax exemption program. For eligible seniors, property taxes are reduced by up to 50%. However, this benefit is only given to those who apply, and many homeowners are not aware of this program.