Opening Remarks of
The Commission on Affordable Housing and Health Facility
Needs for Seniors in the 21st Century
November 7, 2001
Co-Chair Nancy Hooks
I am Nancy Hooks, vice president of the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging in Washington, D.C. It is my pleasure to welcome you here to the Senior Commission's third field hearing.
We're so pleased to be here at our West Coast field hearing, sharing this great location with the annual meeting of the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging.
This commission was the vision of Congressman Rick Lavio as he introduced HR-202 on the first day of the 106th Congress.
When he met with a number of New York association staff just one month later, we were so excited to hear him articulate his plan to establish a think tank of housing and service experts charged with identifying the numbers and needs of future aging Americans.
You see, in many instances, government is reactive rather than proactive, and policy is determined by budget rather than need.
HR-202 has given us a rare opportunity to be proactive, to be creative. The House of Representatives endorsed that opportunity by a vote of 405 to 5 in September of 1999.
This momentum continues in the 107th Congress thanks to the experts of Representatives James Walsh, Marge Roukema, Barney Frank and John LaFalce.
Serving this overwhelming and diverse population to come is a task requiring considerable preparatory work. It cannot be handled overnight, and more money is an oversimplified and inadequate response.
Since September 11th, the focus of federal government spending has become national security and defense. We cannot argue with this priority, nor can we expect government and taxpayers to bear the entire burden of financing our housing and services.
The future will encompass a generation of consumers that is accustomed to personal independence, financial planning, consumer choice.
Their needs and their expectations will differ greatly from those of our current seniors. Their health, wealth and social attributes will likewise vary significantly.
We realize that, in order to keep seniors in the least restrictive, most cost-effective environment for the longest period of time, we need to link housing with supportive services.
As of the 2000 census, we know that 33 million Americans are age 65 and older. Sixty-six percent of these are homeowners, and 13.3 percent are living below the poverty level.
Our research has begun to further define our seniors. For example, we now know that more than 25 percent of all low-income seniors require physical assistance to complete daily tasks, and that percentage increases to 33 percent for the very-low-income seniors, living in rental assistance housing.
But what about the future -- the graying of America that has already begun to present itself?
By 2020, we expect that one in six Americans will be age 65 in older. This translates to 53 million Americans. How are we to accommodate them with the quantity of housing and services they require and the quality that they deserve?
The Seniors Commission is identifying the policies that have worked and those that have failed in providing housing and services to the elderly over time.
But perhaps most importantly, we will be considering alternative approaches to effectively address the future. This commission exists to evaluate underlying policies, to place the issues in the forefront of Americans' minds and to ultimately render a proposal for the future delivery of senior housing and services in a world of finite resources.
It seeks to develop innovative approaches to ensure that every American senior has the access to quality, affordable housing and a network of health care necessary to lead meaningful lives in their later years.
It is my sincerest wish that our report to Congress, due seven short months from now, will lead to legislation that expands models of and access to affordable housing that reduces barriers to public/private partnerships, that increases both the availability and quality of health services to all seniors, whether they live in the community or in private homes or in congregate communities.
We need to make sure that we do this right since this is our best opportunity to make a comprehensive policy statement on the issues we care so deeply about.
Just recently, a member of Congress expressed to me his support for our work and his hopes for our report and resultant legislation. It was very gratifying to hear those words.
He said one more thing to me, though, and I took it to heart. He said, "Please give us something that we can work with, something with a vision and that just doesn't ask for more money. A report like that will end up on a shelf." And such is our goal.
We will be working hard each day so that our reports' recommendations collect support on Capitol Hill instead of dust on a shelf. I thank you.