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For immediate release

For more information contact:
Rhonda Rosenberg, Director of Communications
King County Housing Authority
(206) 574-1185

Pamela Piering, Director
Aging and Disability Services
(206) 684-0104

Aging Population in Seattle-King County Expected to Double by 2025: Action Needed to Prevent Affordable Housing Crises for Low-income Seniors

Feb. 19, 2009

Before moving to Nia Apartments last fall, Mary Utecht, 56, spent two years living alone in transitional housing. When the clock ran out on her stay there, Utecht, a former victim of domestic violence, had nowhere to go.  “Getting into affordable housing takes years,” Utecht said.  Despite feeling anxious and depressed about her predicament, she called everywhere she could think of to find a place to live.  Nothing she could afford was available.

“I was falling apart. I was afraid I’d have to live in the bushes again, and I just couldn’t bear the thought,” said Utecht.  Then, she learned that one of her caseworkers had put her on the waiting list at Nia.

“When the property manager there called to let me know an apartment was available, it was like a ray of light,” she said.  “It’s so beautiful, and I love it.  It brings me a lot of hope and respect for myself.”

The new 82-unit, four-story apartment complex — located in the King County Housing Authority’s Greenbridge community in White Center — became available to tenants in September 2008, when it leased up in four short days, showing just how great the need is for more affordable housing in King County.   The Authority’s first new public housing complex for seniors and persons with disabilities in 26 years, Nia’s residents have an average annual household income of $10,200.  While Mary Utecht’s story had a good outcome, for many seniors it does not:  An estimated 1,000 seniors are homeless in King County today. 

According to Quiet Crisis: Age Wave Maxes Out Affordable Housing, King County 2008- 2025, a report to the community commissioned by Aging and Disability Services and local public agencies, the population of poor seniors in Seattle/King County will double to 53,793 between now and 2025.   Even assuming that the poverty rate doesn’t increase, the region will need to provide nearly 16,000 units of additional subsidized housing by 2025 if we are to maintain the same ratio of affordable housing units to poor seniors that we have now. (Even now demand for affordable housing far outstrips the supply.)  To meet the need, at least 900 subsidized housing units will need to be created each year until 2025, starting now.

 “It’s tough to be old, frail and dependent on Social Security,” said Stephen Norman, executive director of the King County Housing Authority.  “In the current market, seniors who rely solely on public support must pay 80 percent of their monthly income to rent an average apartment.  Without an increase in housing for poor seniors on fixed incomes, this is a prescription for homelessness.”

Using a conservative estimate, the report projects that the number of seniors living in poverty in King County will increase to 53,793 in 2025, up from 23,617 in 2008.  Currently,  public housing and Section 8 subsidies support 43 percent of the seniors in King County with incomes less than the 2008 federal poverty level ($10,400 for a household of one; $14,000 for a household of two people). 

To ensure that this same percentage of the region’s low-income elderly households have access to subsidized housing in 2015, an additional 4,267 public housing units or Section 8 vouchers  must be  provided over the next eight years.  By 2025, 15,913 more units or vouchers would be required.  Far fewer units are actually in the pipeline.

“The senior population in the county is growing at a phenomenal rate – by 2025 one in four King County residents will be age 65 or older,” said Pamela Piering, division director of Aging and Disability Services.  “Such a profound demographic shift creates new challenges both for policymakers and resources.  Comprehensive needs deserve comprehensive attention.  Fortunately, there is a strong regional commitment to start work now to create an integrated approach to assistance for low-income seniors.  This report will help us plan for future housing needs for older King County residents.”

Among the 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.  For example, the baby boom generation is less likely than prior generations to derive its retirement income from lifetime sources such as pensions or annuities.  Instead, more seniors will have to rely on lump-sum sources such as 401(k) and savings plans, which require more attention and are less secure.
  • Seniors are expected to live longer and spend more years with limited mobility and supportive services needs.
  • Working together, local governments, nonprofit agencies and housing authorities can lead community-wide efforts to avert the crisis.
  • Strategies to meet the identified future needs of seniors run the gamut from providing services that help King County residents prepare to succeed in retirement – including healthy aging initiatives, financial literacy training and incorporation of universal design features in new construction and remodeling projects,  to making it easier for residents to remain in their homes as they age.  Other approaches include making strategic investments of public funding to expand the supply of affordable  housing for seniors, making  policy changes that create a wider range of choices for low-income seniors who must rely on subsidized housing and state-sponsored health care, and encouraging the creation of new types of supportive housing.

A copy of the full report is available online.

The six agencies responsible for the report are Seattle Human Services Department/Aging and Disability Services, Seattle Office of Housing, King County Housing Authority, Seattle Housing Authority, King County Housing and Community Development, and the King County Community and Human Services Department.

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