Let’s Take Affordable Senior Housing to a Whole New Level

Center Post

Providers of health care and affordable senior housing can change the lives of low-income older adults and help the nation meet its health reform goals. That may seem like a tall order. But Robyn Stone maintains that if these partners find creative ways to work together, they can take affordable senior housing to a whole new level.

It’s not every day that the location of a good meeting is as memorable as the meeting itself. But that’s exactly what happened in mid-January when members of the Housing Plus Services Learning Collaborative met for 2 days in San Francisco.

LeadingAge, Enterprise Community Partners, and Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future are piloting the Learning Collaborative. It consists of 12 teams representing providers of affordable senior housing and their community partners. Those teams have been working together since Jan. 2013 to support housing providers as they develop strategies to coordinate and deliver health and supportive services to their residents.

The Collaborative’s January meeting focused primarily on ways to create partnerships between housing and health care providers. Our discussion with representatives of managed care plans in California was absolutely fabulous.

The meeting’s location—at Mission Creek Senior Community in San Francisco—was equally impressive.

Community Integration: a Great First Step

Mission Creek is a 139-unit affordable senior housing community managed by Mercy Housing California, a LeadingAge member and a member of the Learning Collaborative.

The property houses very low-income seniors. Many of these residents were either homeless or at risk for homelessness before they moved to Mission Creek. On-site support and service programs help those residents age gracefully and healthfully in a place they call home.

And what a lovely home it is.

Mission Creek Senior Community sits on a former brownfield site in the Mission Bay North area of San Francisco. Before the city’s Board of Supervisors launched a redevelopment project there in 1998, the 303-acre neighborhood was an industrial wasteland dominated by a sewage pumping station, a rail yard and a collection of old factories.

Mission Bay North has come a long way over the past 16 years. Now, it’s a very wealthy neighborhood dotted with luxury condominiums, high-end restaurants and biotech companies. There are walking trails and lots of green space. There’s good public transit and a variety of amenities for residents of all ages to enjoy.

And the best part? Smack dab in the middle of this up-and-coming neighborhood is an affordable senior housing community.

The Mission Creek Senior Community is an integral part of that neighborhood and that’s what I like best about it. It shares its building with an on-site adult day health center, ground-floor retail stores, community meeting spaces, and the newest branch of the San Francisco Public Library.

Most important, Mission Creek doesn’t stick out as “that place where poor people live.” The building’s award-winning architecture blends right in with the other housing around it. Balconies allow residents to breathe fresh air and grow a few flowers while they enjoy a beautiful view of Mission Bay. The tasteful design of the building’s common areas is warmed by plenty of natural light, warm colors and attractively comfortable furniture.

Mission Creek Senior Community is living proof that some common myths about affordable senior housing are just that: myths.

Contrary to what we’ve come to assume, affordable senior housing can be integrated into the larger community. It can look as appealing as everyone else’s housing. And it can contribute as much to its neighborhood as it gains from that neighborhood.

Next Step: Mutually Beneficial Partnerships

The Mission Creek model provides a great framework that other housing providers can use as we work together to advance the Housing Plus Services model. This model aims to keep older adults healthy, independent and engaged in their local neighborhoods by integrating community-based health care, supportive services and activities into the housing setting.

The community integration at Mission Creek represents a great first step in realizing this lofty goal.

The Housing Plus Services Learning Collaborative is pointing the way to our second step: the creation of mutually beneficial partnerships between housing properties and providers of health care.

During its January meeting at Mission Creek, members of the Learning Collaborative agreed that it’s time to start articulating the very real benefits that housing properties can offer managed care organizations, accountable care organizations and federally qualified health centers, especially in light of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The ACA puts pressure on all of these health providers to keep older adults with multiple chronic conditions out of hospitals and other expensive care settings. Affordable housing properties can and must make a strong case that they are in the best position to help health providers reach this goal.

Housing providers have what health care providers need: an efficient and effective platform for delivering health and supportive services to low-income older people who are frequent users of this nation’s most expensive health care services.

By the same token, health providers have what housing providers need: the means to help their residents stay healthy and independent for as long as possible.

I believe that, together, housing and health care providers can change the lives of low-income older adults and help the nation meet its health reform goals.

That may seem like a tall order. But with vision and creativity, we can reach those goals.

Housing properties like Mission Creek Senior Community have made a great start. Now it’s time to take those efforts to a whole new level.