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Testimony to
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
Washington, DC

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 these families.

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 Demonstration Projects
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 communities.

Interagency Summit
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.

Intergenerational Families
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 our country.

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 raising grandchildren.

  • Clarify that grandparents raising grandchildren are eligible for family unification assistance.

  • Provide specialized training, education and outreach to key housing market actors and HUD personnel regarding legal issues surrounding grandparent- and other relative- headed families.

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.

The page was last modified on December 15, 2001