February 17, 1999
Opening Statement of Rep. Rick Lazio (R-NY), Chairman, House Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity
Preserving Affordable Housing for Senior Citizens into the 21st Century
Today, the Subcommittee begins a series of hearings to examine the affordable housing and health care facilities needs of senior citizens in the next century. I am indebted to my friend and colleague, Congressman Walsh, for extending the invitation to begin this discussion in his own community. I welcome him as well as our other Committee colleagues.
On the horizon, a gray dawn is approaching where more and more Americans will live longer, and enjoy more active, healthy lives. More than 33 million people in the United States are now 65 years of age and olderby the year 2020, that number will grow to almost 53 million, or one in every six Americans. This new-found longevity should be celebrated. But we must also not take our future quality of life for granted.
The shift in demographics is not news to us. Our current national debate on the future of Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid in Congress and in our communities is a recognition that we must plan for the future today.
But in this environment, we must not overlook a circumstance, as critical as these other issues of national debatein the next century, millions of senior citizens will suffer a crisis of safe, affordable housing if we fail to prepare.
Even today, the U.S. General Accounting Office and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development have determined that at least 1.4 million senior citizens are already experiencing worst case housing needs. Seniors are more likely than any other adults to be poor. And nearly 40% of seniors not in nursing homes are limited by chronic conditions, unable to perform the simplest activities associated with independent living. New York itself is among the six states with the highest number of low-income senior households with housing difficulties.
How can we accept the possibility of a future where our grandparents, parents, and the generations to come are forced to live in crowded institutions, or worse, live isolated and without hope in dilapidated buildings as their homes crumble around them? We must fight the possibility of this dark reality.
In short, we must prepare to go to battle.
We must be prepared to fight for the resources and attention that will legitimately be spread very thin as America grows older. In this battle, our only enemy will be the fear that we are playing a zero-sum game...that the success and prosperity of one group will come at the expense of another. If we work together, we can preserve what we have built today and expand opportunities for more Americans tomorrow.
A great tool in this effort has been the HUD section 202 housing for the elderly program. I will not dwell on the present Administrations consistent attempts to reduce Federal funding for this program. I will only say that over the last five years, Republicans and Democrats in Congress have led successful efforts to maintain the resources necessary to the program. My friend, Congressman Walsh, has been the key champion of our work to preserve funding levels for this important program.
Looking forward, on the first day of this Congress I introduced legislation that I hope will be the cornerstone of a new security of living and peace of mind for seniors in the 21st Century and beyond.
Our proposal would preserve the existing affordable housing for more than 250,000 seniors, including almost 25,000 in New York State alone. Specifically, we would modernize the financing of senior developments built before 1990, by converting the debt held by non-profit housing providers into direct grants. Relieved of such debt, much of which was serviced with portions of resident rental assistance, nonprofit providers would be better able to support the services so desperately needed, and modernize the units to generate a greater degree of program self-sufficiency. From a Federal perspective, the need for monthly rental assistance would be reduced as the debt is forgiven, thus saving taxpayer dollars in the long run. Otherwise, the cost of fully renewing these rental assistance contracts would reach an annual level of $2.9 billion in 2021.
The legislation also will increase the funding level for senior housing by $40 million, and funding for persons with disabilities housing by almost $30 million. It is my hope that we can move forward in the legislative process without delay to bring our bill to the House Floor the first session of this Congress.
Before I turn to my colleague, I would also like to mention a proposal I intend to unveil in the months to come.
Clearly, one of our greatest challenges in the next few years will be focusing public attention on the need for new ideas and creative solutions to the changing opportunities for senior citizen affordable housing. In this regard, I intend to lead an effort to create a bipartisan national commission on the affordable housing and health care facility needs of seniors in the next century. I expect to work with those inside and outside of government, with state and local officials, and with Republicans and Democrats from Capitol Hill to Pennsylvania Avenue. The House Leadership has enthusiastically endorsed the concept, and we have already received a number of requests from national figures to serve on the commission.
Today, none of us have all the right answers. But I promise you that we will do our best to ask the right questions. In the weeks and months to come I will be speaking more about our commission, and I look forward to working with all those interested in preserving and improving the quality of life for older Americans.