Untapped Potential: Section 202 Housing For Senior Citizens

Crawfordsville is one of many small towns struggling with the housing crisis. Our League of Women Voter’s Economic Health team members keeps asking, “What about housing?” because we have almost no options for homeless men, a shortage of affordable rental units for low-income earners, too few options for first-time home buyers, a struggle to draw developers for new builds and affordable housing for seniors. 2022’s Federal Spending Bill set aside millions to expand non-profit, supportive housing for seniors, a HUD program called Section 202 Housing.

In recent years, senior citizens in Crawfordsville have been losing access to Section 8 Housing, Stacey Doty, head of Crawfordsville’s HUD office, said that there are plenty of vouchers, but too few property owners willing to work with the Section 8 housing, even though it guarantees payment, screens residents for the landlord and ensures that both owner and renter keep the property in good condition. Section 8 Housing vouchers go first to survivors of domestic abuse, then to seniors, the disabled and veterans. Those who are homeless or paying more than 50 percent of their income toward rent and utilities can also qualify. (People can qualify under multiplied categories.) Again, the shortage is in available housing, but for some seniors, it’s not just any housing but the kind that aids those over 62 who would benefit from community and critical aids such as groceries, food, cleaning and laundry. Section 202 Housing specifically includes this.

Consider what was lost when Athena Apartments evolved away from being a senior-centered living community. Residents lost a lively community where they could gather for game nights, walk the corridors together and attend Bible studies or church services in the gym. Presently, Crawfordsville’s seniors have few options: move out of town and break with their life-long friend networks, move into nursing homes or find a place with their children. Most aging adults prefer to age in place, enjoying the privacy of an affordable apartment in a supportive community.

Section 202 Housing intentionally creates senior communities that help stave off loneliness, and isolation, and improve social determinants of health, those conditions such as where people live, learn, work, play, worship and age that affect well-being and quality-of-life. In 2019, 13 percent of people age 65 and older reported taking prescription medicine for feelings of worry, nervousness or anxiety and 12 percent reported taking prescription medicine for depression. The CDC reports that chronic loneliness is associated with a 29 percent increased risk of heart disease and a 32 percent increased risk of stroke. Loneliness is associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety and suicide. Section 202 Housing would create dedicated communities for senior citizens that allow them to connect with peers but maintain their privacy and independence.

Furthermore, Section 202 Housing improves Section 8 options because it provides for other common needs of our aging population. According to a 2019 profile of senior citizens in the US, 19 percent of adults age 65 and older reported they could not function at all or had a lot of difficulty with at least one of six functioning domains: sight, hearing, mobility, communication, cognition and self-care. Twenty-two percent reported trouble seeing (even if wearing glasses), 31 percent reported difficulty hearing (even if wearing hearing aids), 40 percent reported trouble with mobility (walking or climbing stairs), 8 percent reported difficulty with communication (understanding or being understood by others), 27 percent reported trouble with cognition (remembering or concentrating) and 9 percent reported difficulty with self-care (such as washing all over or dressing). Section 202 Housing must include food, market, laundry and cleaning services that residents may choose to use (or not). It would dramatically improve upon voucher-based housing that Crawfordsville has presently. Low-income seniors cannot afford grocery delivery and with few supermarkets in town, options for healthy, fresh vegetables and fruits are too far flung to access on their own.

Imagine a place with a food court, mini-market, laundry services for seniors struggling to lift baskets of clothing and staff on hand to help with vacuuming and trash removal. Imagine a place where seniors could go for walks together, and gather in affinity groups. Imagine an option for low-income people over 62 being able to age-in-place, a far more fiscally responsible, health-wise option for local governments to add to their development planning.

The League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan, multi-issue political organization which encourages informed and active participation in government. For information about the League, visit the website; or, visit the League of Women Voters of Montgomery County, Indiana Facebook page.