How to age in place when housing isn’t affordable

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If you’re a low-income renter looking for a place to live in Los Angeles, you’re out of luck. A May 2016 study from the California Housing Partnership Corporation says there’s a gap of about 500,000 affordable units that need to be built.

A majority of adults say they would prefer to age in place; to remain in their home of choice as long, as safely, and as independently as possible. Yet currently in LA, the need for affordable housing that allows people to age in place is increasing as demand is outpacing supply.

Jacqueline Waggoner is the vice-president of Enterprise Community Partners Inc., a national organization advocating for affordable housing at a time of widespread housing insecurity.

Producer Ruxandra Guidi spoke with Waggoner about aging in place, about the impact that affordable housing can have on the health of seniors, and what is being done to address the housing crisis.

Ruxandra Guidi: How great is the need for affordable housing in Los Angeles right now?

Jacqueline Waggoner: There’s a great need. There are roughly about 100 units under construction–very few of them dedicated to low income households. Affordable housing is largely built by low income housing tax credits and other local and state subsidies. All those resources have diminished over recent years with the elimination of the Redevelopment Agency of the State of California. And locally we had a $100 million trust fund that is just north of $20 million now, trying to address a greater need. So the problem is significant.

RG: How is LA’s housing insecurity affecting longtime, low-income residents?

JW: Because of the buildout of the public transit system, the neighborhoods that have been historically low-income, predominantly minority, are now starting to feel the pressure. People of moderate income are also struggling to find a place to live with average rents of $2,100 a month. And so they’re starting to bleed into those low-income areas. So now we have low-income people doubling up, moving out further away from transportation and employment centers. It really is a significant problem. On average, low income people are paying 73 percent of their income for rent, and extremely low income are paying 83 percent, leaving little money for food, transportation, health expenses, and other needs. Now we have moderate income housing insecure paying north of 30 percent. Housing matters as you age. We need to think about how to age in place: What can be done to retrofit units, what are the services they need? How do you connect seniors to other services in their neighborhoods? We’re looking at seniors as a group that we need to give some serious focus. We are starting to look at Los Angeles and its doubling senior population in the next decade or so.

RG: There is an increase in evictions and what are known as “cash for keys” deals by landlords in LA, where tenants are being paid to leave units before their leases run out. What is being done about this?

JW: It’s usually affordable housing that people are being evicted from, and that is usually happening in buildings with fewer than 49 units. Speculators are going into these low-income communities, buying up these properties, and slowly evicting people, and then when they lose that rent stabilization ordinance, that owner can now take that rent to market. As people start to move out, those units are lost, and they are lost forever. We believe a lot of seniors actually live in those types of housing. And so we are starting initiatives around the preservation of those types of properties, by helping our housing partners acquire those sites as a strategy to preserve, so those residents could stay in place.

RG: What sort of solutions are being explored right now to improve housing security for seniors in LA?

There have to be some solutions, but I think we have to be strategic about them. So we’re going beyond housing now. All things matter, right? So you have a nice place to live, but you don’t have access to healthcare. You have access to healthcare, but your children are in awful schools. You have access to a park, but it’s not safe. All of those things are interconnected, so it’s about the health of communities and the people that live there. And so we would like to stabilize and preserve those communities, and we’re working on that.

(Photo: Bear Guerra)