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Testimony to
The Commission on Affordable Housing and Health Facility
Needs for Seniors in the 21st Century
November 7, 2001
Marvin Schachter

Thank you for the invitation to be here today. The Forum for Affordable Housing for Seniors was a meeting that was held in Los Angeles 12 days ago.

It was an effort on the part of the advisory councils of the Area Agency for Aging to raise the issue of housing in a way that the senior community as a whole has not dealt with it.

We had some 400 people participating in the forum. There are 88 cities in the county of Los Angeles. One city, Los Angeles, has 40 percent of the population; the other 87 cities have 60 percent of the population.

There's something like 1,300,000 seniors in Los Angeles County. It's as big, of course, as many states.

Our effort was to bring into this meeting a -- all of the people interested in housing. We had government officials; we had people in the legislature, Congress; we had providers of both profit and market rate housing; we had senior consumers; we had senior activists.

Interestingly enough, we addressed at the beginning of our conference the same issues that speakers here spoke to this morning and this afternoon; that is, the issue ?? this issue at a moment when this country's faced with a national security crisis and when the resources of this country are being devoted in a very heavy way ?? huge appropriations to meet the issues and the needs of that crisis, and is this a time to talk about affordable housing?

And of course our conclusion was the same conclusion of the speakers here today, that we cannot postpone talking about affordable housing, that affordable housing -- the gestation period for housing projects is far longer than perhaps anything else.

If we postpone action, we will be faced, as we are already, with an increasingly difficult crisis, increasingly serious crisis, but one of the most fundamental needs of seniors ?? of all people; that is of shelter.

We point to the fact -- and I think it's interesting that, in World War II, when this country had a cost in its resources and, with 13,000,000 involved -- 13,000,000 mostly men at that time in the armed forces, we were able to build affordable housing when we needed to.

Some of the housing that was built in the late 1930s, the early 1940s in Los Angeles are still among the best affordable housing in that community. Some of the leading architects, Noytra (ph), et cetera, were the architects that were involved in those projects.

We found the resources because we needed them. Housing was an imperative to meet the war effort.

Well, housing is still an imperative in our society. The problem, of course, is that we are not meeting that -- that imperative.

I think that this commission has an enormous opportunity to sound a clarion call on housing issues for our society. If it doesn't meet that responsibility, if it doesn't do that, I think it will be a sad situation as far as senior housing is concerned.

It has to do it in a variety of ways. I think that there's been more than adequate discussion of the inter-relationship of the issues that we face as far as providing decent care and decent housing for seniors.

After much discussion, the California Commission on Aging and the organization of the Area Agency for Aging Councils spent a lot of time discussing their priorities. Those priorities, to no one's surprise here, I'm sure, were housing, health care and transportation.

I looked up some of the documents of meetings that were held in the 1980s, in the early 1990s. The issues were the same: health care, transportation and housing. We haven't moved very far, because those are the issues that we face.

All of these issues are, of course, inter-related. You cannot solve one without the other.

Our attention here is, of course, on housing. Here, again, there's a relationship that's very important. The issues cannot be solved simply by federal appropriations or federal programs. It needs state activity and it needs local action.

Let me focus for a moment on local action, because given the budgetary demands both at the state level and the federal level, there's much that can be done at a local level if, in fact, there is leadership and there is some will to do it.

For example, programs that can, in fact, increase the amount of housing for seniors as well as everybody else -- I want to come back to that.

Inclusionary zoning regulations. We have nearly a hundred communities in the state of California that have a requirement for inclusionary zoning.

That requires that, of all market rate housing built in a community, based on the zoning powers and police powers of that community and upheld by our California Supreme Court, they require a varying percentage of the housing to be affordable to moderate-income and low-income people.

In every single case where this issue is raised -- there's an obvious struggle with builders and developers. It means that a certain amount of the housing they build will not be as profitable as other housing.

I've been a developer and a builder/ developer. I've never known a builder/developer not to have a margin of profit sufficient to provide three percent, five percent, ten percent, 15 percent -- the percentages vary -- a certain percentage to include housing that will be affordable to low-income and moderate-income people.

Impact fees. Again, a number of communities in California have instituted impact fees. When a project is built in a community, a commercial project, an office building, a shopping center, which has an impact on the housing demand in that community, that developer pays, as they due in many instances for parks, schools, et cetera, an impact fee that goes into a housing fund.

In the city of Los Angeles now, a very vigorous effort has created a broadly based coalition that is working to achieve a 100,000,000-dollar housing fund for the city of Los Angeles.

Interestingly enough, every single member of the city council has committed themselves to that program. Both mayoral candidates in the last election committed themselves. It's on the agenda for the city council at this very moment.

Very important was the breadth of the coalition that supported that effort and made housing in the city of Los Angeles a major issue.

It's very interesting to us in the city of Pasadena, where I live -- was the fact that we succeeded in passing, against much opposition, an inclusionary zoning ordinance about two months ago that, again, was based on a coalition of seniors, people in the African-American and Latino communities that now make up nearly a majority of the people in our city, and people in the business community who know that affordable housing is a necessity for the economic well-being of that community.

There are other steps that can be taken as far as housing is concerned, but I do want to come back to, I think, the most fundamental issue. I'm glad it was raised sharply.

If we want to have housing, if we want to have bricks and mortar, we have to have dollars and cents. This commission, I think, has to face directly that issue. We cannot stretch the dollars and build the housing that's needed for seniors or anybody else if we do not work for the appropriations that are necessary.

Secondly, I do want to emphasize that I believe that senior housing is part of the general housing problem in our society, a problem that affects grandparents acting as parents. It's a problem that can be met by family housing, not by senior housing abstractly.

The seniors that we keep talking about, who double in percentages in the next 25 years, are the seniors in their 40s and 50s now who need affordable housing.

I think pragmatically, politically, it's important. I also think it's important for us to say that we are in favor of housing programs for ourselves, for our children and for our grandchildren.

The page was last modified on November 29, 2001