Senior Housing: Why and How Do We Advocate?

Members | April 26, 2012

Housing is a basic human need that growing numbers of elders and people with disabilities cannot afford. LeadingAge and its members are the chief advocates for a strong federal role in affordable senior housing – development, preservation and management including housing with supportive services. We invite you to take a look at the programs for which we have worked over several decades and better understand why we continue to advocate for creative solutions to ensure safe, decent and affordable housing for our nation's elders.


Housing is a basic human need that growing numbers of elders and people with disabilities cannot afford. LeadingAge and its members are the chief advocates for a strong federal role in affordable senior housing – development, preservation and management including housing with supportive services. 

The programs for which we have worked over several decades face a number of challenges. We continue to advocate for creative solutions to ensure safe, decent and affordable housing for our nation’s elders.

Who are our senior housing members and residents?


LeadingAge and its members are the chief advocates for a strong federal role in affordable senior housing – development, preservation and management including housing with supportive services. 

Our housing members number some 1,500 communities, almost a third of the LeadingAge membership.   

They represent nearly 225,000 apartments financed, insured, and subsidized by the full range of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Rural Housing Service programs.  

An estimated 2 million elderly tenants live in publicly assisted housing, mostly low-income single women in their mid-70s to early-80s.  The U.S. Commission on Seniors and Affordable Housing (2002) estimated that 1/3 of subsidized renters have difficulty performing at least some Activities of Daily Living. 


Why LeadingAge advocates for senior housing


Housing is a basic human necessity that growing numbers of seniors cannot afford. 

The senior population, those aged 65 and over, is expected to double by the year 2030, from 35 million to 70 million. Nearly 50% of today’s seniors are over 75. Those over 85 –now 3.5 million-- are expected to double by 2020 and double again by 2040.  

Half of the seniors over 85 are disabled or frail and that number is projected to double by 2030.  It is the fastest growing cohort among seniors.  

There are 3.6 million seniors living below the poverty level. The HUD 2009 Worst Case Housing Needs study reported that 1.33 million seniors paid more than 50% of their incomes to meet housing costs and/or were living in moderate or severely inadequate housing.  

According to AARP, for every unit of Section 202 housing that becomes available, there are 10 low- to-moderate income seniors on the waiting list.  

In 2010, more than 44,000 people aged 65 and over were homeless. 


Federal housing programs for which we advocate


Section 202: Established in 1959, the Section 202 program remains the only direct financing resource for the development of housing for low income seniors. In its 50 plus year history, the Section 202 program has financed more than 8,000 projects and nearly 400,000 units.  

The median income of Section 202 residents is $10,236 and their median age is 74 years with about 30% aged 80 or older. 

Section 8:More than 1.6 million households, located in every congressional district, are subsidized with project-based Section 8 assistance, by far the largest subsidy program for vulnerable families. About half of these households include elders or people with disabilities.  

Most rental assistance and rent supplement assistance properties were converted to project based Section 8; however the extension of rental assistance and rent supplement assistance contracts that did not convert is a preservation issue for some LeadingAge members. 

Section 202 properties built from 1974 through 1994 are subsidized by Section 8.

Other programs: Our members also own and operate properties financed under the FHA insurance programs, Section 236, public housing, and low income housing tax credits and subsidized by section 8, rental assistance and the rent supplement program. 

Members also own properties financed by the Rural Housing Service, Section 515. 

As only the Section 202 and low-income housing tax credit properties have been built in recent years, most of our members face preservation and rehabilitation issues.

Nationally, the Section 236 program produced about 400,000 apartments, of which nearly 1/4 (66,000) house seniors. In the public housing program, there are nearly 1.3 million apartment of which 31% serve seniors. Of the public housing that serves seniors, about 76,600 units are located in elderly only properties. 

How does the amount spent on Section 202, Section 8 and Section 811 relate to the federal budget as a whole?  

  • Total federal spending for 2012 - $3.796 trillion.
  • Section 202 spending – $375 million (0.009% of total federal spending).
  • Section 8 spending - $17.24 billion for Housing Choice vouchers and $9.35 billion for project-based rental assistance.
  • Section 811 spending - $165 million (0.004% of total federal spending).


The current senior housing dilemma


Despite the continuing and growing need for affordable housing for low- and moderate-income seniors and people with disabilities, funding to increase the supply has been severely constrained or eliminated.  

Present federal policy trends would protect only those seniors who are already receive assistance, doing nothing to house the thousands more seniors who have worst-case housing needs or who are actually homeless.  

Section 202 is the last remaining federal funding source for construction of senior housing. Years of level funding have resulted in fewer and fewer Section 202 units being built each year. In the last 2 years only 594 new units were funded nationwide. 

It is clear that a comprehensive national policy for affordable housing and services is needed or the current senior housing crisis will intensify, not abate  

How we have advocated on senior housing programs

Our organized advocacy campaigns have included the collection and dissemination of stories from senior housing residents on how much their housing means to them.  

Other grassroots advocacy has included Contact Congress letter writing, and grassroots call-ins for Section 202 funding.  In 2010, the stories and our advocacy resulted in funding of $825 million despite the administration’s request for no new development funding.

We organized and for many years have led the Elderly Housing Coalition, an organization of stakeholders that advocates for senior housing programs.

Recent senior housing accomplishments  

Won support from the Obama administration to view the Section 202 program as the platform for the delivery of supportive services so that vulnerable seniors can remain in their homes as long as possible with a good quality of life. 

Until the last 2 years, we were able to ensure steady funding for the Section 202 program, new development, project-based rental assistance contracts and project-based rental assistance contract renewals, service coordinators, and the assisted living conversion program, which includes capital repair grants. 

During the last decade, funding for Section 202 approximated $700 million per year; ranging from a low of $722.1 million in 2008 to a high of $825 million in 2010.  The number of units produced, however, diminished each year as a result of increased construction costs and demands for project-based rental assistance contract renewals. 

Developed and secured passage of Section 202 reform legislation (P.L. 110-372) that simplifies and streamlines the development and preservation of affordable, supportive senior housing. This was our signature bill, based on input from many of our housing members on the changes needed in the Section 202 program. 

Assured funding under the 2009 stimulus legislation for green and energy efficiency retrofit grants for section 202 properties, which were the largest recipient of green retrofit grants. 

Advocated for full funding of all project-based Section 8 renewals for 12 month contract terms each year and for supplemental funding in 2009 to make up the shortfalls from prior years.

Developed and advocated for legislation enacted in 2008 to delegate processing of Section 202 capital advances in mixed finance transactions.  

Developed and advocated for principles to be included in the Section 202 program capital advance application that further housing and services strategies.  

Senior housing solutions for which we now advocate

At least $600 million in funding for the Section 202 program in fiscal 2013. It is not enough to continue serving seniors already living in Section 202 housing or to simply provide operating assistance in housing already under construction. Within the Section 202 budget, Congress should allocate $200 million for the traditional capital advance program provided through a national competition; at least $91 million for new and renewed service coordinator grants; and $25 million for the Assisted Living Conversion Program. 

Fully fund 12-month renewals of all rental assistance contracts and advance appropriations for payment continuity. In order for providers to maintain safe, decent, sanitary housing for seniors, federal rental assistance payments must be timely and adequate. Partial funding of rental assistance contracts a few years ago led to chronically late payments that threw the management of these developments into chaos. A repetition of that situation is completely unacceptable.

A system of health and long-term services and supports organized around affordable senior housing. New financing mechanisms to integrate the financing of housing and services to build and preserve service enriched housing. Research shows that as people age, they frequently experience multiple chronic illnesses and deteriorating physical and cognitive functioning.  

Left unmet, these needs: 


  1. Compromise health and quality of life.
  2. Impinge on the ability to continue independent living.
  3. Contribute to higher health and long-term care costs borne by Medicare and Medicaid.
  4. Burden housing managers who must manage apartment turnover and the threat of evictions, housekeeping and repair crises and relations with other tenants resulting from residents who pose a safety risk to themselves and others.  


Over the next 20 years, a rapidly aging population will exacerbate these challenges. Coordinating affordable housing with supportive services will enable elders to age in place in safety and dignity.  

Enabling elders to remain in the community could be a cost-effective alternative to premature entry into a nursing home, now the only option for many seniors who need help with activities of daily living.

Development of a rehabilitation program for older Section 202 PRAC projects. Section 202 project-based rental assistance (PRAC) properties built years ago need access to capital for rehabilitation and repairs. We support legislation to enable these properties to take on debt for rehabilitation, use their property as security for a loan and use their PRAC payments to pay off a new mortgage.

Investment in the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program. Essential improvements requiring legislation include flat 4% and 9% tax credits, expanding the tax credit’s reach to rural areas and for preservation projects, and encouraging mixed-income projects.

Housing preservation legislation to address the newest crisis of maturing mortgages. The legislation would provide new tools to ensure preservation of affordable housing that might otherwise be lost when mortgages mature.