A new project and a national trend: The growing need for affordable housing for seniors

“Stable and secure and safe housing is a social determinant of health … I’ve seen that play itself out many, many times,” says Samaritas Executive Director Sam Beals. And he’s right. Housing plays such a vital role in our day-to-day lives, regardless of your age, race, nationality, gender identity, sexuality, background, or familial status. It’s such an important issue that Rapid Growth is committed to continuing coverage on housing in Grand Rapids and West Michigan, exploring the topic from many different angles.

One such perspective that is not often explored — as it relates to housing and a myriad of other issues — is that of the aging population. Though some seniors age in place in their current homes or with family members, the issue of housing, for many as they age, is a looming question mark that creates doubt and insecurity. Especially for those with ongoing health concerns, the need for stable housing is great among the Silent Generation — with the youngest already in their 80s — and just beginning for Baby Boomers — those in their 50s, 60s, and 70s.

Focused on housing specifically for seniors as one of their principal tenants, Samaritas broke ground on a new affordable senior living facility last week: the St. Joseph Seminary Affordable Living project. Located at 600 Burton in the Garfield Park neighborhood, St. Joseph Seminary — listed on the National Registry of Historic places — is a 80,700-square-foot building that will ultimately transform into 87,715 square feet encompassing 53 affordable apartment units for those 55 years and older.

Beals, who notes that the nonprofit has been focused on expanding affordable senior living in GR and West Michigan for the past few years, notes that Baby Boomers are just beginning to seek housing in senior living facilities. “Expect to see that grow very significantly over the next 10 to 15 years,” he says. Samaritas offers three types of housing options for the aging population: market rate, memory care, and affordable housing, and Beals is noticing steady growth in the latter category. 

“The average cost of housing in West Michigan is $1,068 per month, an 11% increase from last year. (rentjungle.com)," according to Samaritas’ press release. And “Individuals spending more than half of their income on housing spent an average of 40% less on food and 70% less on health care, according to the AARP.”

The cost of housing in Grand Rapids has indeed increased exponentially across the board in the past 10 years, and a recent Harvard Study “Housing America’s Older Adults 2019” showcases the impact on seniors here and across the nation.

Taking into account the size of the Baby Boomer generation and addressing issues like household debt, location choices, mobility, the wealth gap, and even student debt, the study showcases the need for subsidized independent housing for seniors. 

“In part, growing income inequality within the older population reflects a trend toward later retirement. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 27 percent of adults aged 65–74 were still working in 2018, as well as 9 percent of those age 75 and over,” notes the study, released earlier this month. "And given that Social Security benefits are based on past earnings, income disparities at older ages are to some extent a continuation of disparities that existed earlier in life.”

“Rent is going higher and higher,” concurs Beales. “Affordable housing being subsidized housing is one way in which we can help the many many people that can’t afford this.”

One such Grand Rapidian who has taken advantage of Samaritas’ senior affordable housing model is local Sheryl Figures. A resident of Allen Manor, a facility of 24 independent, one-bedroom apartments, Figures moved in in March 2016. Returning to GR from Detroit to care for a sick family member, Beales spent three years searching for independent housing before finding Allen Manor. “Housing was so hard here,” she says. “That was one of the reasons why I [originally] moved to the Detroit area.”

Figures touts the location, price, and community as the reasons she is staying put. “It took me three years and once I got in here I was happy,” she says. “This community right here is basically family oriented … everyone here looks out for everybody.”

Allen Manor, in addition to a rent bill that amounts to only 30 percent of each tenant’s monthly income in alignment with HUD regulations, offers on-site blood pressure checks and foot care, income tax assistance, and monthly community events. This type of community living, as well as access to health resources, is vital for seniors, according to the Harvard study.

“Affordable housing that connects residents to supportive services and community activities—such as shared meals, recreation, transportation, and on-site healthcare coordination—can help older adults live independently longer. Indeed, LeadingAge research shows that older adults living in housing with an on-site service coordinator had lower hospitalization rates than older populations living in housing without service coordinators.”

To ensure that senior tenants — even though they are living independently — have on-location support, the facility also designates an on-site manager, a role that was recently assumed by Figures.

“This is where my heart is … I love my home,” she says. 

Unlike Figures, many aging tenants may have no income at all. At the new St. Joseph facility, eight Project Based Vouchers will be available, meaning that some tenants with no income will be able to live in apartments rent-free. In addition, six of the units will be barrier-free, designed for tenants with mobility impairments. 

Aiming for completion by spring of 2021, Beals anticipates that the center’s residents will flourish in Garfield Park. “We thought it was an ideal location … older but very much dynamic and alive and growing and diverse,” he says. Samaritas staff approached the Garfield Park Neighborhood Association early on, requesting their feedback and support for the large-scale development. 

“Garfield Park tries to be supportive of affordable housing initiatives,” says Hanna Schulze, President of the Board, who saw the need for the project. “Property values are increasing so quickly in our neighborhood that folks that own homes or who are paying on homes are starting to get on the verge of not being able to stay in the homes that they own or that they are paying on.”

As housing prices continue to increase across Michigan, St. Joseph, in addition to Samaritas’ 12 other affordable senior facilities across the state, fills a void for seniors seeking affordable housing as they age. As part of Samaritas’ mission to support Michiganders “from cradle to grave,” housing remains a timely and desperate need.

“It has been or will likely to continue to be the primary health and human service need in Michigan and throughout the country for many years in the future,” says Beals.

Photos courtesy Samaritas.
Signup for Email Alerts