We were pleased to read Speaker Frank Chopp’s editorial regarding the need for affordable housing options in Seattle. Certainly the groups he mentions—homeless youth and families, individuals with disabilities and mental illness, workforce adults—are deserving of affordable housing within the City of Seattle. But we'd like to remind readers that an important group of people was not included in his article: seniors.

LeadingAge Washington represents several providers of low-income housing for seniors in Seattle and King County. For example, Capitol Hill's Council House has 163 units. They have a multiyear waiting list for a one bedroom, with an average rent of less than $650, and a yearlong waiting list for a studio, which has an average rent of less than $450. Another such group, the Senior Housing Assistance Group (SHAG), operates multiple apartments in Seattle/King County for low-income seniors. The average annual income of their residents is less than $19,000, and their average age is 75. The King County Housing Authority, which also provides housing to low-income seniors and disabled individuals, has an average tenant income just over $11,000, and average rent of about $215 per month. They have a waiting list between 48 and 60 months.

The population of the US over 65 is expected to double by 2030. Currently, in Washington State, 1 in 5 seniors lives solely on Social Security; the maximum social security amount for an individual in 2014 is $721 per month. According to the Economic Security Index, in King County, the average single elder who rents needs about $27,000 year, including just over $1,000 per month for rent.

These are sobering statistics, and we have work ahead of us to ensure that we can meet the needs for affordable housing for everyone, including seniors. Fortunately, promising research offers a good option—housing with services—that our state should invest in now to help increase affordable senior housing capacity for the future.

This housing-with-services model has been successful in many parts of the country. A new study has linked data from HUD and the Department of Health and Human Services, showing that seniors in subsidized HUD housing were more likely to be sicker and frailer than their peers in non-subsidized housing. We know that the housing-with-services model—which maintains seniors in independent apartments and provides care coordination and other services, like meal service and housekeeping—reduces the need for these seniors to move into more costly assisted living or skilled nursing facilities and reduces the use of hospitals, including emergency visits.

One small study in Camden, New Jersey, showed that hospitalization went down by 40 percent and hospital bills by 56 percent through the use of a coordinated care and housing model. We believe this model has the potential to create substantial savings in our state as well, savings that could be re-invested in affordable housing for seniors. During the 2014 Legislative Session, LeadingAge Washington and SHAG worked to get the legislature to fund a similar program here and prove the cost-effectiveness through better health outcomes for our state’s seniors. Unfortunately, this modest investment in our seniors was not funded last session. However, with support from constituents, legislators will have an opportunity to “do the right thing” when they reconvene in January.

Deb Murphy, CEO of LeadingAge Washington
Jay Woolford, Executive Director of SHAG
Steve Mitchell, Administrator of Council House