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HUD Secretary Ben Carson says senior housing is top priority

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Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development Dr. Ben Carson spoke Monday about the importance of using public-private partnerships to provide affordable housing for seniors.

The neurosurgeon-turned-housing-secretary gave a 30-minute speech to senior housing and health care providers at the 54th Annual LeadingAge Florida Convention in Orlando.

Carson, who took the job in March, said senior housing was one of his top priorities.

“We have to help more people age in place, keep their health and their homes and retain their physical and financial independence,” said Carson, who told the crowd of 300 attendees that his mother has Alzheimer’s disease. “As a physician, son, aging American and HUD secretary, this is personal for me.”

Carson said his mother tried living in a health care facility and hated it. She’s now living with her favorite niece.

“Fortunately, we had the financial means to allow her to make that decision,” he said. “I’m very concerned about seniors who become destitute and are forced into low-income housing. Many look to HUD for housing but the brutal reality is the market is becoming more expensive and housing prices are surging in inner cities like New York City, Washington D.C. and Chicago.”

To combat the problem, Carson said HUD is encouraging public-private partnerships by requiring developers to provide affordable housing, while meeting the needs of their high-end buyers through creative financing and leveraging. The government provides seed money, while the developers are the primary source of the funding.

“This is a win-win for residents, developers and taxpayers,” he said. “Seniors must not become economic refugees in their own country, forced out of housing by their nation’s own economic progress.”

Steve Bahmer, president and CEO of LeadingAge Florida, said Carson’s visit opened the lines of communication between health care providers and HUD. He said his members are struggling to provide more services to Florida’s growing aging population with less funding.

“We’re trying to provide affordable housing for our growing senior population when the infrastructure doesn’t exist,” Bahner said. “We have a supply and demand problem that must be addressed.”

Bahmer said seniors wait from six to seven years for affordable housing in Central Florida, three to five years in Jacksonville and four to eight years in South Florida, where more than 3,000 people are on the waiting list.

“The sad truth is that a lot of the elderly on our waiting lists will never be able to be housed,” said Juana Mejia, vice president of housing development and operations for Catholic Housing Management. “Our services are not just about providing bingo anymore. We have to find housing and financing in more creative ways.”

Mejia said she is currently partnering with a developer in Coral Springs to rehab a property that will provide 214 units for seniors.

Carson said they are increasing funding from $432 million to $510 million in the 2018 budget to improve HUD’s affordable housing program that provide vouchers to seniors for rental subsidies.

Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly Program is the only federally-funded housing program designed specifically for older persons. It offers capital advances that finance construction, rehabilitation and purchasing of affordable housing properties for seniors.

To qualify for the subsidies, people must be at least 62 years of age and have incomes below 50 percent of their area’s median income. The average resident’s age in Section 202 housing is 79, and the average annual income is $10,018, according to figures from AARP. Ninety percent of the residents are women.

LeadingAge is a nonprofit whose 250 members care for seniors at nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and continuing care retirement communities. The LeadingAge convention at Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate continues through Wednesday.

The youngest of seven children, Terry O. Roen followed two older brothers into journalism. Her career started as a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel, where she wrote stories on city and county government, schools, courts and religion. She has also reported for the Associated Press, where she covered the Casey Anthony and Trayvon Martin trials along with the Pulse massacre. Married to her husband, Hal, they have two children and live in Winter Park. A lifelong tourist in her own state, she writes about Central Florida’s growing tourism industry for Florida Politics and Orlando Rising.

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