Lack of HUD funding is impacting seniors and those with disabilities
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Would you treat your mother or father this way?

The government shutdown, now officially the longest in America’s history, is impacting everyone. It’s hard to miss the steady stream of stories, from videos of demonstrating furloughed workers urging a resolution, to tales of desperate parents on #ShutdownStories, like Rusty, the father scraping together funds for his kid’s medicines or single parents unsure of how they’ll pay their rent.


Let’s talk about some of the people we might not be seeing protesting in front of the White House or trending on #ShutdownStories. 

These are older people and people with disabilities who represent the majority of the people living in 650 rental communities across the U.S. whose contracts with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) have already expired because of the shutdown. Five hundred more contracts are set to expire in January if the shutdown continues. Residents living in these communities are among the lowest-income people in this country. Many are on fixed incomes.

Consider 69-year-old Shirley Henderson, who lives in HUD-subsidized San Jose Manor Apartments in Jacksonville, Fla. She pays $232 each month, about a quarter of her Social Security check, for her rent-subsidized home in a building operated by nonprofit provider and LeadingAge member Family Housing Management. Without that housing, she’d have to pay much more at the market rate. For Henderson, who also receives medical assistance at San Jose Manor from a mobile health unit that helps her to manage her diabetes, the loss of housing plus medical services would likely mean having to choose between paying for housing, food, medication or other essentials.

HUD’s shutdown-induced inability to renew contracts means that the agency cannot pay the subsidies that make up the difference between the rents tenants can afford and the actual costs of operating the properties. HUD issued this advice to owners and property managers providing homes under the Section 202 Housing for the Elderly program who’ve been notified that their contracts will not be renewed: Tap your reserve funds to cover costs like staffing, utilities and maintenance. On the basis of an internal analysis, a HUD staffer told us, most (92 percent) Section 202 communities expected to rely on reserves during the shutdown should be “fine.”

For Alma Ballard, executive director of Family Housing Management, which operates Ms. Henderson’s building, the contract expiration has forced tough choices. She’s shelved a planned roof replacement and instead, patched it yet one more time, to keep it from dripping into residents’ apartments. What happens, she wonders, if the shutdown outlasts the estimated two-months expenses of standard operating costs that her $60,000 reserve fund will cover?

And what about those 8 percent of Section 202 communities that do not have reserves necessary to get through a longer shutdown?

This situation is unconscionable. Is it right that housing for Shirley Henderson and other older adults as well as for people with disabilities, is being held hostage to partisan fights over unrelated issues?

This can be fixed. Before the end of the 115th Congress, House and Senate appropriators negotiated a fiscal 2019 HUD spending bill. The House has again passed a HUD funding bill. Now it is time for the Senate to take up a HUD funding bill for fiscal 2019 and pass it on to President TrumpDonald TrumpCuban embassy in Paris attacked by gasoline bombs Trump Jr. inches past DeSantis as most popular GOP figure in new poll: Axios Trump endorses Ken Paxton over George P. Bush in Texas attorney general race MORE to sign into law. 

Linda Couch is vice president, housing policy at LeadingAge, the association of nonprofit providers of aging services, including affordable housing for older adults.