Kudos to the Boston Globe for reporting on a study by Wider Opportunities for Women and UMASS/Boston that showed that “the elderly in Massachusetts struggle with the nation’s largest shortfall between income and costs, with the age group’s median income covering only about 60 percent of basic living expenses here. In Massachusetts, for example, the median income of retired residents 65 or older is just under $17,000. It falls more than $10,000 short of what the study estimates it costs for basic necessities, such as food and shelter.” [Read the entire Globe article.]

This is not news to anyone working in the field of aging services—we see it every day as we ask 75 year olds to wait 1-6 years for an apartment despite immediate need. Also, years ago UMASS did a study for the Department of Housing and Community Development that identified seniors as the group with the largest housing cost burden—it said fully 53% are paying more than they can afford for their housing.

And we are all aware that this age group is growing dramatically—according to the U.S. census bureau, the number of seniors over 90 years old will more than quadruple by 2050. Poverty is correlated with advanced age.

With these statistics in front of us, you’d think the public discourse would be heavily focused on addressing the current elder poverty and the impending explosion of need. 

It’s not. Housing costs are generally the single biggest part of a senior’s budget, so providing subsidizing housing can make the most significant difference. It takes years to build, especially since real estate development is often opposed by neighbors. So we need to plan more affordable housing for seniors and move the plans into construction.  Meanwhile, the federal government completely eliminated funding for new senior housing in last year’s budget, and the state allocates tax credits with a strong preference for family housing (at the expense of senior housing).

Thanks to the Globe for covering this issue and let’s hope these cold, hard facts are enough to keep this issue front and center until we can muster the collective will to solve it.

By Amy Schectman, JCHE President and CEO for blog: Insights from Onsite