Elderly and handicapped recipients of federal rental and income subsidies and food stamps would be able to enter shared-housing arrangements without forfeiting these benefits under three bills being introduced in the House.
The legislation is being introduced by Rep. Edward R. Roybal (D-Calif.), to aid elderly and handicapped renters who are currently forced to forego their rental subsidies when they share units.
Under HUD's Section 8 Lower Income Rental Assistance program, those receiving rental subsidies must have their own bathrooms and kitchen facilities. Residents of shared units, therefore, cannot qualify for rental subsidies. Builders who plan to build housing that is to be shared are also ineligible for Section 8 funds.
The 1981 White House Conference on Aging reported that 200,000 new units of elderly housing would be needed in 1983 to meet the housing needs of senior citizens. The administration's 1983 budget calls for construction of only 10,000 new units of federally subsidizied housing for the elderly next year.
"This won't even come close to meeting the housing needs of the elderly," stated George Lambrinos, staff director for the House Select Committee on Aging's subcommittee on housing and consumer interest, which Roybal chairs.
Lambrinos suggested that three units of shared housing could be subsidized for the same cost as one unit of conventional senior citizen housing. He said that if a renter is paying 25 percent of his or her monthly income of $400 on an apartment that costs $400 per month, the government subsidy is $300. If a renter sharing the rent and only pays $200 a month, the government subsidy is only $100, he noted.
"The problems of increased living expenses and reduced availability of decent rental housing are especially acute among the elderly," Roybal said.
Roybal's other bills would allow social security recipients receiving supplimental security income from the government to move into a shared-housing arrangement and not have their benefits reduced, and the other would allow elderly people receiving food stamps and living in a shared-housing arrangement to be considered as an individual household and not have their food stamp benefits cut.
Lambrinos said the federal government assumes that when individuals share living space, they will also share other expenses. Based on this assumption, the food stamp and supplimental security allotments of these individuals are decreased when they move in with each other, discouraging such arrangements, he said. This often makes it unfeasible to move into a shared-living arrangement.
"This is a faulty premise," contended Dennis Day-Lower, director of the Shared Housing Resource Center. "What we are seeing is that shared-living arrangements do not always function as a family. Due to conflicts in scheduling and needs, meals cannot always be shared, and neither can food," Day-Lower explained.
Day-Lower further contended that intangible benefits such as security and companionship are just as important to the shared housing resident--and should be to the federal government--as are services exchanged and cost savings.
Specialists in housing for elderly estimate that 70 to 80 percent of America's senior citizens own their own homes. A significant percentage have excess living space and trouble meeting high energy bills and repair costs, the housing subcommittee maintains. These people could benefit from home sharing if federal disincentives were removed, subcommittee members believe.
At the same time, waiting lists for apartments are growing, Lambrinos notes. He suggested that many older persons are entering nursing homes because they have no other options.
"Shared housing is not the answer to the housing crisis for the elderly," Lambrinos said in an interview, "but, it needs to be an option."
According to Day-Lower, "The bill needs to happen because the elderly have so few options."