Liveability and Affordability: The Future of Senior Housing in Oregon

By Nancy Tannler

In the state of Oregon, there are approximately 440,000 adults over the age of 65. This number is expected to increase by 300,000 in the next 15 years. 

The Oregon Health Forum (OHF) presented a panel discussion on what this looks like in the ways of livability and affordability and what will be available to these aging Oregonians.

The most crucial situation is housing. The current shortage and cost of housing does not only affect the Portland metropolitan area, but all of the cities in the state. 

“The increased costs in the larger cities has a domino effect on other smaller towns and communities throughout the state,” said presenter Julie Cody, director, Affordable Rental Housing and Community Services.

Cody sited the population explosion of Bend in the 1990s. The city grew from 20,000 residents to the recent census of 100,000. When this became unaffordable, people looked to Redmond, 15 miles away. Redmond’s population went from 7,000 in 1990 to today’s 32,000. 

The next closest place was Madras where, until recently, there were units that went for $500-$600/month. Now there are scant rental properties and they begin at $850/month.

“This is happening throughout the state,” said Stephanie J. Hooper, president AGE+. “If we are to fully serve the expected increase of older adults over the next 15 years, OR will need 600,000 more units.”

So the possibility of leaving the expensive city and retiring in a quaint, cheaper rural town is a fading dream, at least here in Oregon. The number of seniors already living in rural and suburban areas is increasing. Like anyone else, they want to age in place but, unlike urban areas, their homes were never planned for isolated, non-driving individuals.

There is a definite advantage to living in the Portland metropolitan area and the TriMet transit system is one of them. They offer seniors an Honored Citizen pass that costs as little as $1.25 for a ride. Plus, there are several lift companies that transport seniors to grocery stores, doctor appointments and more.

The average Social Security check is $1,530/month. For 50 percent of the people this will be their main source of income after they retire. When you do the math, it’s easy to figure this will not be enough for these people to live on.

Laura Golino de Lovato, Executive Director, Northwest Pilot Project (NWPP), spoke about what is available to assist folks here in Multnomah County. The NWPP was started in 1969 by an Episcopal priest named Peter Paulson. 

It began as an all-volunteer group focused on older adults living in the downtown area. They initially provided support for seniors at risk of losing their ability to live independently.

NWPP functions pretty much the same way today, only now the outreach is much broader. Many services are offered to clients who rent their home. They provide permanent supportive housing, long-term rent assistance, choices for senior housing and low-cost extra support for independent living.

Fortunately, de Lavato said, we just passed the Supportive Housing Services Measure (26-210). This bill addresses the needs of people experiencing homelessness or are at risk of becoming homeless.

The bill placed a marginal tax of one percent on households with income over $200,000 and businesses whose profits exceeded $5 million. These funds are earmarked for better long-term rent assistance resources, expansion of support services, stronger tenant protections, new grants and to advocate for zoning changes to expand housing possibilities.

On a national level, funds will be used to increase the national housing choice voucher program and to lobby to increase social security, disability and supplemental security incomes.

Throughout the state and in Portland in particular, one solution is for city planners to offer more incentives for builders to build modest sized, affordable housing units.

Statistics have shown that, over time, contractors recoup their investments in this type of build because of the consistent payments of their occupants.

For seniors who own their homes and do have some savings, it was suggested by de Lavato to consult a retirement specialist. No matter what the circumstance, once a person begins living on a fixed income it’s wise to reexamine expenditures.

Preparing to age in place is another consideration for homeowners. There is an abundance of information available online about how to modify your home for the future. 

If you are in need of financial assistance, Habitat for Humanity (habitat.org) and other sources listed at dailycaring.com can help.

As things are right now, the growing demand for services will outweigh the availability. Hopefully, as this burgeoning population increases, the services being planned by today’s social workers will be set in motion and ready. The presenters at the aging forum stressed that being prepared is the best way to prepare for this inevitable stage of life.

For elders interested in being proactive about planning for their future, resources to explore are nwpilotproject.org, ageplus.org, multco.us/ads, oregon.gov/ohcs/Pages/index.aspx and 211info.org.

Liveability and Affordability: The Future of Senior Housing in Oregon

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