The Commission on Affordable Housing and Health Facility
Needs for Seniors in the 21st Century
November 7, 2001
Donna M. Butts
Executive Director, Generations United
Members of the Commission, it is an honor to appear before you to discuss the future
of the nation's commitment to the housing and health facility needs for seniors in the
21st century. My name is Donna Butts and I am the Executive Director of Generations United.
Generations United commends the establishment of this commission to investigate and provide
recommendations to the U. S. Congress on how to shape the housing and service needs for our
elders today and into the future.
As an organization dedicated to bolstering communities through meeting the needs and
promoting the strengths of all generations, Generations United (GU) recognizes that rapidly
changing demographics will require innovative strategies to address the growing care needs
of older adults. However, we also recognize that older individuals are not just the
receivers of care but are also likely to be the givers of care. Therefore, Generations
United has a special interest in ensuring that the 2.3 million grandparents and the number
other relatives raising children have safe and affordable housing that meets their needs
and the needs of the 6 million children for whom they are caring.
Generations United is the only national membership organization focused solely on
promoting intergenerational strategies, programs, and public policies. Generations
United was founded 15 years ago amidst a growing effort to pit the older and younger
generations against one another in competition for scarce resources. At that time,
the National Council on the Aging, the Child Welfare League of America, AARP and the
Children's Defense Fund formed Generations United in order to forge a common agenda
among those that serve younger and older constituencies. Today, GU represents more
than 100 national, state, and local organizations representing more than 70 million
Americans and is the only national organization advocating for the mutual well being
of children, youth, and older adults.
Generations United promotes an intergenerational approach to framing public policies
that impact children, youth and older Americans. Our work is based on the premise that
each generation has unique strengths to help meet the needs of the other, that
resources are more wisely used when they connect the generations rather than separate
them, and that public policy should meet the needs of all generations. Our goal is
for others to understand that generational interdependence, or the giving and receiving
of resources between generations over time, is crucial to promoting social progress.
Intergenerational transfers have been integral to all societies throughout time and
should be supported by public policy that protects and encourages its perpetuation.
Two major areas I wish to address today are:
- Intergenerational shared sites- Innovative model programs that address the growing
housing and health facility needs of seniors in the 21st century.
- The growing numbers of grandparents and other relatives raising children need safe
and affordable housing that addresses the needs of both older and younger members of
Intergenerational Shared Site Programs
As we move into the 21st Century, we face the potential for further age-segregation and
social isolation among our older adults. We need to focus on innovative strategies to
provide avenues for our nation's seniors to stay connected in communities. Cutting-edge
programs, known as intergenerational shared sites are sprouting up across the nation to
address these and other growing care needs. Many of these programs are models in their
state or locality and are isolated from others doing similar work. Recognizing the need
for national leadership for this growing area, Generations United launched Project SHARE
(Sharing Helps All Resources Expand), a field building project to help create elder-friendly
communities by promoting the development, replication and expansion of intergenerational
shared site and shared resource model programs.
Intergenerational shared sites (IGSS) are defined as "programs in which multiple
generations receive ongoing services and/or programming at the same site, and generally
interact through planned and/or informal intergenerational activities" (AARP, 1998, p. v).
Examples of intergenerational shared sites range from co-located child day care and
continuing care retirement community to intergenerational community centers designed
and built specifically for children, youth, and older adults rather than isolated senior
centers and teen centers.
Model Intergenerational Shared Sites
Hope Meadows is one model program. It is the first "planned neighborhood" of Generations
of Hope, a non-profit, licensed foster care and adoption agency headquartered in Rantoul,
Illinois. Living side by side on a decommissioned military base, senior residents provide
support to children and their foster parents living in the community. The housing community
provides a safe and loving environment where kids who have been shuttled through the
foster-care system live and interact with senior citizens.
In March, the Chicago Housing Authority unveiled the intergenerational computer learning
center, a collaborative project between residents of Chicago Housing Authority's Senior
Housing and Chicago Public Schools. Senior housing residents and elementary school children
share the center and mutually benefit from one another's skills, perspective and expertise.
Benefits of Intergenerational Shared Sites
Intergenerational shared sites offer benefits for old and young. They offer enhanced quality
of life for residents. Older people are more likely to feel connected to their communities,
feel hope for the future, and may even experience improved emotional and physical health.
Children often experience more individualized attention, gain awareness and appreciation of
the aging process, and receive new guidance, wisdom and support from older adults. Furthermore
intergenerational shared sites have been reported to yield positive staff attitudes, cost
savings, enhanced employee benefits packages, and increased community involvement.
Barriers to the Development and Expansion of Intergenerational Shared Sites
While interest is growing and the number of these programs is increasing, many of the programs
are isolated and run into barriers related to funding, regulations, licensing and accreditation,
liability, zoning, and training for facility staff.
A 1995 study of co-located intergenerational activities by the Department of Health and
Human Service, Office of the Inspector General, revealed that regulations by the
Administration on Aging (AoA) and the Administration on Children and Families (ACF)
sometimes conflict. Differences in fire safety codes, immunization requirements, facility
sanitation standards, nutritional requirements, and licensing standards regarding
staff/participant ratios and staff certifications. The study suggested that "coordinated
policy guidance and standards to resolve potential regulatory conflict would be useful
in implementing intergenerational centers." Furthermore, the report indicated that many
officials of intergenerational shared sites identified the lack of flexibility in the
"build versus lease" options for facility space as a hindrance to implementing IGSS
facilities because many areas lack existing buildings that are adequate for the relocation
of Head Start programs or senior centers.
Zoning regulations can also restrict the creation of some IGSS where commercial
facilities are not allowed in residential areas. For example, this could restrict plans
for a child day care on the site of a naturally occurring retirement community. Other
zoning regulations restrict congregate house. This may limit opportunities to build a
continuing care retirement community in an area where there are more likely to be families
with children and a need for local children's programs.
Funding is critical if IGSS are to increase and go to scale. While many current funding
streams allow these programs to apply for funding, few use explicit language to encourage
the development of IGSS. The lack of explicit intergenerational language in Requests for
Proposals and funding guidelines limits grant seekers and grant makers who may not be familiar
with this approach. Multiple requirements and conflicting standards may also hinder an
IGSS's funding success.
The lack of formal research and public knowledge about benefits and successful models
of intergenerational shared sites further impedes their expansion and development. Many
administrators are not aware of the value of intergenerational programs, therefore logical
vehicles for IGSS development such as ACF and AoA typically do not encourage intergenerational
programming through their own mission or the guidance they issue to the states. Furthermore,
there is currently no comprehensive database of existing intergenerational shared site
programs, nor do many federal agencies include "intergenerational" as one of their key words
on relevant agency web sites.
Recommendations for Federal Legislative and Regulatory Reform for the Development and
Expansion of Intergenerational Shared Sites
The federal government can play a key role in addressing barriers and encouraging the
development of more of these innovative facilities.
Federal Government Involvement in IGSS Education
The federal government could further educate and promote IGSS by creating or providing
funding for the creation of a database of information on IGSS facilities and programs.
A comprehensive list of existing programs could promote networking and provide valuable
information for the replication of effective programs. Such a database is especially
important since many policy barriers exist on the local level and effective replication
will require communication among programs in close proximity to one another. Furthermore,
federal agencies could include "intergenerational" as one of their key words on relevant
agency web sites and information about IGSS facilities could be included in many of their
regional trainings for federal workers.
Public Policies and Funding Opportunities for Intergenerational Programs and
Public policies that include intergenerational language, such as the Older American's
Act, intentionally encourage IGSS methodology. Such intentional language in other laws
such as those describing 21st Century Learning Centers, Head Start programs, the Social
Services Block Grant, and others would promote the development of shared site programs.
Public policies that provide funding for demonstration projects could provide additional
opportunities for innovative IGSS programs. Funding for demonstration projects already exist
under the Corporation for National and Community Service and the Department of Housing and
Urban Development, but it is very limited. Expanded funding for these innovative projects
could promote the development of IGSS programs.
While zoning related barriers to the development of IGSS often depend on localities,
the commission should explore the use of zoning incentives to create multigenerational
Collaboration between government agencies would encourage further development of
IGSS programs. An interagency summit between key regulatory and funding organizations
should be conducted to discuss the benefits and contributions of IGSS programs as well
as ways to develop and promote them. This discussion should address funding issues
as well as regulations, to eliminate regulatory conflict such as that which currently
exists between AoA and ACF in such areas as fire safety codes, immunizations
requirements, facility sanitation standards and licensing standards. In addition
to key government agencies, this summit should involve non-government organizations,
for-profit developers and key organizations that have demonstrated expertise in IGSS.
In the U.S. there are at least 2.1 million children being raised solely by their
grandparents or other relatives because their parents are unable or unwilling to raise
them (according to the March 2000 Current Population Survey). Many of these children
have parents who have died, are in prison, or are suffering from drug or alcohol addictions,
while some have been taken out of abusive homes. The 2000 Census indicates that the
number of these intergenerational families is increasing and the phenomenon cuts across
all racial, ethnic and socio-economic groups. Because of this a continuum of services from
support groups to mental health services to respite care to housing assistance is required
to address the diverse needs of the families.
Relatives who step forward to care for these children are doing so at great sacrifice
to themselves. They are most likely to raise these children informally, outside of the
foster care system. If even half of these more than 2 million children were to enter the
formal foster care system, conservative estimates show that it would cost taxpayers a
minimum of 4.5 billion dollars a year as well as completely overwhelm an already overtaxed
system. These grandparents and other older relatives are providing a tremendous service to
Generations United is in a unique position to address the issue of relatives raising
children from the perspectives of both the young and old. As a result, Generations United
has emerged as the national leader in a growing field of organizations focused on this issue.
Innovative Housing for Grandparents and Other Relatives Raising Children
Grandparents and other relatives raising children face many barriers, especially if they do
not have legal custody of the children. Obtaining safe and affordable housing is a serious
concern because most grandparent and other relative caregivers, especially older ones, did
not expect to be raising these children. Many of these caregivers live on fixed incomes, and
must not only deal with the rising cost of prescription drugs, but with the cost of diapers,
toys, babysitters and school fees. These families often live in small apartments and houses
that are not suitable for children. If they live in public senior housing, where children are
not allowed, they are often subject to eviction if the children are discovered.
With 2.1 million children living solely with grandparents or other relatives, safe and
affordable housing for these families is a concern that must be addressed. There is
currently only one housing development in the nation specifically designed for these
families - the Grandfamilies House in Boston, Massachusetts. The units were built with
safety features, such as grab-bars in the bathrooms for seniors and outlet covers to protect
children. It includes on-site services for residents, including exercise programs, a
before- and after- school program and support groups, all of which have been shown to be
extremely valuable for seniors as they take on this new role. Grandfamilies House is
erving as a model program to other communities that are looking to create or adapt housing
or grandparent- and other relative- headed households. Numerous localities are in the
process of developing housing programs similar to Grandfamilies House. These programs,
which are in various stages of development can be found in: Baltimore, MD; Buffalo, NY;
Chicago, IL; Detroit, MI; Nashville, TN; New York City, NY; Cleveland, OH; and
Philadelphia, PA. Many groups report that they are encountering legal and financial
barriers which are slowing down their progress or preventing them from moving forward.
Generations United has also received numerous calls from additional groups who are
interested in developing similar programs, but are looking for successful models, guidance,
and/or initial funding.
Generations United is currently working to develop proposed legislation to help address
the housing needs of this population. The bill will be called LEGACY -Living
Equitably: Grandparents Aiding Children & Youth. This
proposed legislation will build on the success of the Grandfamilies House and help
organizations across the country build similar housing developments by addressing many
current legal and financial barriers. Specifically it will:
- Create national demonstration projects within HUD's Section 202 and Section 8 Programs
to develop housing specifically for grandparents raising their grandchildren.
- Provide for the completion of a national study of the housing needs of grandparents
- Clarify that grandparents raising grandchildren are eligible for family unification
- Provide specialized training, education and outreach to key housing market actors and
HUD personnel regarding legal issues surrounding grandparent- and other relative- headed
As a part of the United Nations Year of Older Persons, I was honored to be invited to
represent the United States in a working group created to develop a public policy framework
for a society for all ages. I learned about wonderful multigenerational responses such as
in Spain where college students receive free tuition when they live with and help care for
an older person and in Sweden where all new buildings are required to set aside a small
portion of their space for senior use. In the end the Secretary-General's final report
included the reciprocal importance and value of multigenerational relationships to help
strengthen the solidarity between generations.
We at Generations United believe that resources are better used when they unite the
generations rather than separate them. As we look to the future housing and service needs
of American seniors, we must be cautious not to add to the potential for contention and
strife between age groups. Rather we should create responses that embolden connections
among generations. It is vital that we factor in the richness of a society that values
its bookend generations…the youngest and the oldest.
If we do not offer a continuum of supportive services for grandparents and older
relatives raising children, we risk raising a generation out of touch with their roots
and without a firm foundation from which to reach productive adulthood. As we have learned
so poignantly from the events of the last two months, older people are the weavers of our
social fabric. They offer comfort, calm and a historical perspective that reassures us
that our country will survive and thrive. We cannot afford to lose access to their wit,
wisdom, and well-honed perspective by isolating them in senior-only communities. Thank you
for the opportunity to testify today. We at Generations United look forward to assisting
in the important work of the Commission.