Revisiting King County's Senior Housing Crisis

The articles submitted for this month's issue of AgeWise King County caused me to revisit a report, Quiet Crisis: Age Wave Maxes Out Affordable Housing, King County 2008–2025. Published by Aging and Disability Services, King County Housing Authority, King County Housing & Community Development, Seattle Housing Authority, Seattle Human Services Department, and Seattle Office of Housing, the report examined current and future needs, based on demographic trends, and found a significant shortage of affordable senior housing in King County.

Here it is in a nutshell: More than 900 additional affordable senior housing units are needed each year until 2025.

Among the 2009 report's findings:

  • By 2025, the number of seniors in King County will double, representing 23 percent of King County's total population. The number of seniors living in poverty will more than double.
  • Currently, the need for affordable housing greatly surpasses the supply. An additional 936 subsidized units will need to be created each year until 2025 just to maintain the current ratio of affordable housing to poor seniors.
  • The future needs of seniors will differ in some respects from today's seniors. The baby boom generation is less likely than prior generations to derive its retirement income from secure lifetime sources such as pensions or annuities. Seniors are expected to live longer and spend more years with limited mobility and supportive services needs.
  • Working together, local governments, non-profit agencies and housing authorities can lead community-wide efforts to avert the crisis. New strategies are needed to help seniors prepare to succeed in retirement, including healthy aging initiatives, financial literacy training, incorporation of universal design features in new construction and remodeling projects to make it easier for residents to remain in their homes as they age.

Strategies include:

  • Help King County residents prepare to succeed in retirement.
  • Develop policies and services to help seniors remain in their homes as they age.
  • Create a wider range of choices for low-income seniors who  must rely on subsidized housing and state-sponsored health care.
  • Make strategic investments of local, state and federal public funding to expand the supply of affordable housing for seniors, and to encourage the creation of new types of supportive housing.
  • Provide a framework of regulations and incentives to encourage the development of affordable housing for seniors.
  • Create senior-friendly neighborhoods by targeting senior housing and infrastructure investments in the neighborhoods that best support healthy aging.  

What can you do right now?

Seattle and suburban cities are currently engaging the public for input on their comprehensive plans. State law requires Washington cities to update their comp plans every 10 years. The Seattle-King County Advisory Council on Aging & Disability Services has already weighed in with Seattle, Bellevue, and a number of other cities. Contact your city and join us in asking for goals that support successful aging in place.

Some of the common elements include:

  • Ensure that the city is the kind of place people of all ages want to live. Healthy aging—at every age—should be a goal of every city government.
  • Give elders parity with children and families (e.g., "Create a caring community that nurtures and supports children, families, and elders").
  • Renew focus on affordable housing strategies that provide older adults the opportunity to remain in their own neighborhood as their housing needs change, including a range of housing types, from independent living with supportive services nearby to skilled nursing facilities.
  • Advocate for reduction of barriers to providing services to residents of subsidized housing.
  • Encourage, support and promote existing programs and policies that help low-income elders retain ownership of their homes.
  • Ensure livable communities that welcome all ages and abilities.
  • Adopt Universal Design principles—good design for all ages and all abilities. The ADS Advisory Council endorses incorporation of Universal Design principles—equity, flexibility, simplicity/intuitive use, perceptible information, tolerance for error, and size and space for approach and use—in all aspects of the built environment, processes, and products. We are active in the Northwest Universal Design Council. Learn more at www.environmentsforall.org.

In addition, the Advisory Council advocates for measures promoting economic empowerment and security, especially among older women, with a goal of self-sufficiency and alleviating the impacts of poverty and other conditions that make people, including older adults, vulnerable.

Consider the Elder Economic Security Standard™ Index for Washington, available online at www.wowonline.org/documents/WashingtonElderIndexReport.pdf. We've got a long way to go to make this county and each of its cities a place where seniors can age comfortably in place.

Contributor Tony Provine is serving his second term as chair of the Seattle-King County Advisory Council on Aging & Disability Services, which publishes AgeWise King County. He welcomes input from readers via e-mail (advisorychair@agewisekingcounty.org) as well as applicants for open positions on the council, when they occur. For more information, visit www.agingkingcounty.org/advisory-council.