Proposed Cuts Worry Senior Housing Providers
Selma S., a Jewish woman in her late 70s who lives in the Sheepshead Bay section of Brooklyn, depends on an array of social and medical services provided by the Metropolitan New York Coordinating Council on Jewish Poverty and other agencies.
But what she needs most is decent housing to replace her deteriorated walk-up flat.Selma is on the waiting list for one of the Met Council’s two subsidized housing projects — a third is nearing completion, and the group will soon close on a fourth with the Department of Housing and Urban Development.But due to soaring demand and steady cutbacks in the Section 202 housing program, which provides federal money to nonprofit groups for the construction of subsidized housing projects, her chances are dwindling.
This year, Selma failed to make the cut in a lottery that drew 4,500 applicants for only 120 apartments.And if the Clinton administration’s proposed budget — which includes a cut from $645 million for Section 202 housing to $159 million for fiscal year 1999 — is passed, her chances may fade completely.
“These reductions would have a devastating impact on our constituents, the elderly Jewish poor,” said William Rapfogel, executive director of Met Council. “It’s a counterproductive move because these are very efficient programs that bring together preventive services on site. And it’s definitely harmful to the elderly poor themselves.”
The services include physical therapy and counseling. The decrease is part of a broader shift by HUD from big, centralized programs to smaller programs and block grants that provide local governments with added flexibility.
HUD is emphasizing programs like housing vouchers, which provide subsidies for low-income residents in ordinary rental units, over the construction of subsidized housing serving specialized populations like the elderly poor.
Vouchers, Jewish activists concede, may serve more people for less money — but with fewer services, less convenience and without adding to the stock of housing available for special populations like the elderly.Meanwhile, the demand for subsidized housing for the elderly is soaring.
“There are more than 32,000 elderly Jews living below the federal poverty level in the five boroughs,” Rapfogel said. “Out of that number, it’s estimated that less than 10 percent are living in any kind of subsidized housing. We believe that means that the vast majority are living in substandard housing.”
The Section 202 program “is one of the most successful programs the federal government has run,” he said. “Over 30 years they created several hundred thousand units.“At one time, New York could expect to get 20 to 25 new projects per year; that dwindled to six from 10. If the new cuts pass Congress, it might be cut to about two. That would have a huge impact on the Jewish elderly.”
Other Jewish groups will be affected by the proposed cuts, too. B’nai B’rith has built 32 elderly housing projects nationwide, with two in New York City and two more in the metropolitan area.
“We have lodges around the country that have indicated a desire to build new units, but with increasing competition for less money, that will be difficult,” said an official of the group.
A coalition of Jewish groups, including the Met Council, the Council of Jewish Federations and the UJA-Federation of New York, is pressing Congress to restore at least some of the Section 202 money.Rep. Rick Lazio (R-L.I.) and Sens. Alfonse D’Amato and Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York have indicated strong support.
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani may testify before Congress in support of Section 202 housing.
“Congress has a tradition of restoring money for housing, and we’re hopeful they understand the issue this time and respond appropriately,” said Ronald Soloway, executive director for government affairs for UJA-Federation of New York, which has built more than 4,000 units in the New York area using Section 202 money.
Housing vouchers, he said, might not be sufficient to provide decent housing in areas with high housing costs, like New York, and they would not provide the convenient, efficient social and health services provided by congregate living situations.
“From our perspective, cutting back on the 202 program is a very unwise proposal,” Soloway said.
The Council of Jewish Federations is planning a Washington lobbying day early next month, and the elderly housing issue will be at the top of the agenda.
But the needy elderly, other observers say, may be falling through the cracks as federal programs shift to other priorities, including serving the homeless and families with children.
What about Selma?
“We’ll continue to help her by trying to deliver services that ordinarily would be available in Section 202 housing,” said the Met Council’s Rapfogel. “But she won’t have the same access that she would have in a 202 building.“And the level of community that is built in that environment, the looking out for one another, is not something that can be replicated in an individual apartment building.”