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Keeping affordable senior housing within reach
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Keeping affordable senior housing within reach

MetroWest CARES (the Committee Addressing Resources for Seniors), coordinated by Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, brings together leaders from MetroWest agencies to promote independence and support vitality among older to adults. Each month, a MetroWest CARES agency has an opportunity to address a critical eldercare issue.

This month’s article on affordable senior housing is presented by Harold Colton-Max, chief executive officer of Jewish Community Housing Corporation, which developed, owns, and manages the Lester Senior Housing Community in Whippany, Jewish Federation Plaza in West Orange, the South Orange B’nai B’rith Federation House, Village Apartments of the Jewish Federation in South Orange, and Jewish Federation Towers in Irvington.

Every year, the National Low Income Housing Coalition issues a report on the affordability of rental housing in the United States. Released at press conferences throughout the country, the report — “Out of Reach” — illustrates all-too-clearly that for many households, a decent apartment is just that.

This year was no different. In the report issued in March, 2012, the NLIHC reported that in order to be able to pay for a market rate, two-bedroom apartment in New Jersey and still have enough money left over to pay for other necessities such as food and clothing, a household would need to have annual income in excess of $52,000 (for a one-bedroom apartment, the annual income required would be over $44,500). As one stark measure of how people are priced out of the market for rental housing, the report notes that a single minimum wage employee in the Garden State would need to work 138 hours per week all year to cover the rent and still have enough money left over to pay for other necessities.

For those people who are no longer working, it is even more difficult to find an affordable market-rate apartment. For example, senior citizens and people with disabilities frequently rely on social security or supplemental security income payments from the federal government as their primary or even sole source of income. For those individuals who are fortunate enough, they will have retiree benefits such as a pension from their former employer, investment income, and perhaps some savings to draw down over time.

This is why nonprofit organizations like the Jewish Community Housing Corporation exist: To provide quality affordable housing with services for seniors who are living on a fixed income. At present, the JCHC owns and manages four multifamily buildings containing more than 500 apartments with affordable rents for those 62 years and older (a fifth building that we own and manage is entirely market-rate). At three of these buildings, the rents are calculated individually for each resident at less than 30 percent of their income. At the remaining building, we charge lower than market rate rents for these units. To make it easier financially on our residents at all of our buildings, we provide no-cost or low-cost services such as transportation, recreation, and social activities and more.

Unfortunately, the JCHC and other groups like us cannot meet the demand for affordable housing for seniors or others. At our three buildings where the rents are set based on income, we have waiting lists that go from approximately one year to more than two years. At the same time, in the midst of the ongoing budget crisis, the federal government is cutting back on the resources that are made available to make affordable housing a reality. For example, for the first time in decades, it appears Congress will not be providing funds for the only program dedicated to the new construction of affordable senior housing (ongoing funding for projects in operation is still budgeted for the moment).

Given the current paucity of affordable senior housing and the increasing demand that will be coming with demographic changes already underway (the retirement of the baby boomer generation), it is a good idea for potential applicants to stay “ahead of the curve.” If affordable senior housing might be a future consideration for you or a loved one, you might want to consider submitting an application sooner rather than later so it will be a shorter wait when it is needed.

To learn more about the senior housing options that the Jewish Community Housing Corporation has to offer, whether independent living or assisted living or whether affordable or market rate, visit www.jchcorp.org or send questions to haroldc@jchcorp.org.

Families and caregivers with broad eldercare questions and who need help with community resources can contact Elderlink (www.elderlinkmetrowest.org), a portal to all MetroWest services for older adults and their families, at 973-765-9050 or elderlink@jfsmetrowest.org.

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