With the recent release of the US Census Bureau’s latest American Community Survey and results from the 2010 count imminent, we are poised to gain insight into how the demographics of our cities and neighborhoods are changing. However, there is one demographic trend this data will likely show that should come as no surprise: seniors are making up a growing percentage of Minnesota’s population.
Unlike many societal shifts, this is a change that researchers have seen coming for quite some time. With each passing life phase, this population cohort has left their mark on the landscape. We built additional schools in the 1950s and 1960s to educate them. We constructed additional houses and roads to reach them as they started families in the 1970s and 1980s. Now, we must build once again as more and more of this generation transitions from work to retirement.
Chief among the concerns within the growing ranks of seniors is finding housing that both supports an independent lifestyle and is affordable on a fixed income. While there are certainly new developments being created for those with ample financial resources, recently released data suggests that there is demand for a greater breadth of housing options. Five year estimates from 2005 to 2009 released by the US Census Bureau indicates that the rising cost of rental housing is a source of financial strain for many seniors across the state. An analysis of this data performed by the Minnesota Housing Partnership shows that in 39 counties a majority of households headed by renters age 65 or older are spending 30 percent or more of their household income on housing. Paying thirty percent of household income or more toward housing is the threshold used by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for defining a significant rent burden.
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The good news is that this is a solvable issue. The state of Minnesota has a well developed system of community development non-profits that have a strong track record of building housing that brings vitality to neighborhoods while creating opportunity for those with limited incomes. Already, many of these organizations are applying their expertise toward creating housing solutions designed to meet the needs of seniors. Aeon is currently working on 50 one-bedroom apartments as part of The Landing, a new development in downtown Chaska. CommonBond Communities and Plymouth Church Neighborhood Foundation are partnering on Riverview Apartments, a development in South Minneapolis that will create 42-units of senior housing. PRG, Inc is working with Plymouth Church Neighborhood Foundation to create Spirit on Lake, a 46-unit building along East Lake Street that is geared toward meeting the needs of the aging LGBT population. Frogtown Community Development Corporation, Neighborhood Development Center, Model Cities, and Aurora St. Anthony Neighborhood Development Corporation have partnered with Episcopal Homes to create Frogtown Square. Opening in early 2011, this art-deco themed building features space for new neighborhood businesses as well as 50 one-bedroom senior apartments adjacent to the coming Central Corridor LRT line.
In most cases, these developers have applied for funding through HUD’s Section 202 program, which funds new developments for individuals 65 and older with very low incomes. However, with demand across the country far outpacing the available supply of program dollars, it often takes several years for developers to gain approval for funding. In the meantime, the number of seniors who could benefit from developments like those described above is only increasing.
We can increase investment in expanding housing options for seniors in several ways. Of course, we can ask Congress to allocate additional federal dollars to HUD’s Section 202 program. But, this is not the only solution. The Minnesota Legislature should consider options for creating additional sources of financing that can go toward ramping up production. Not only would this help close the gap between the demand and supply for senior housing, it would create opportunities to put back to work the carpenters, electricians, and other construction professionals who are currently sidelined by the economic slowdown.
It is not often that we are presented with social issues that we can resolve within our time. It may take the work of future generations to finally end poverty or find a cure for our most debilitating diseases. Providing affordable, accessible housing for the generation that has shaped much of the past century is a goal that is within our reach.