Why Affordable Housing for Seniors?


Every day 10,000 adults turn 65 in the United States. Federal programs that subsidized the building of new affordable housing for seniors are under constant threat or have ceased to exist.

Policymakers at all levels of government are concerned about a looming wave of homelessness among older adults as the number of poor seniors mount and housing costs continue to skyrocket, especially in the Metropolitan DC area. Consider the following facts:

  • More retirees than ever rely on Social Security as their sole source of income in retirement and the average recipient receives $1,341 monthly. Nearly one in five have no retirement savings at all.
  • A growing number of older adults rely on the federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program that provides eligible seniors with a maximum of $735 a month for an individual and $1,103 for married couples.
  • There is a wide perception that older Americans have limited housing costs because they own their own homes with paid off mortgages (nearly a third of older homeowners still have one) and they have Medicare to cover their health care.
  • Those with mortgages may face problems with unaffordable payments (3.8 million are currently underwater) and most who sell must rent.
  • Medicare does not cover health care costs in full. In fact, high health care costs are the most significant driver of income insecurity among older adults.
  • Between 2003 and 2013, the number of older adult households paying more than half of their incomes for rent or living in severely substandard conditions increased by 31
  • Congress has not provided substantial resources for construction or new housing under Section 202 (a federal-assisted housing program targeted to seniors) since FY2012.
  • Homelessness among seniors is projected to increase 33% by 2020 and 100% by 2050.

Sources and suggested reading. Consider supporting advocacy efforts around providing affordable housing for older Americans:

Center for American Progress, Elderly Poverty: The Challenge Before Us 

Grantmakers in Aging, Affordable Housing for Seniors 

Justice in Aging, How to Prevent and End Homelessness among Older Adults

Kaiser Family Foundation, State by State Snapshot of Poverty among Seniors 

Leading Age, Section 202: Supportive Housing for the Elderly

National Council on Aging, Economic Security Facts 





Sometime an Artist

Farm in Wells. 2018. This painting is in a private collection. 

As a young man right out of college, I lived in North Berwick, Maine with my cousin Dewitt Hardy and his wife Pat. Both were full-time artists. At the time Dewitt had a New York gallery and provided for his family through his art.

While I had studied drawing with another Maine painter Neil Welliver while in college, I was now an apprentice to two  experts and it was like learning to draw all over again.

I concentrated on  landscapes during days driving around Southern Maine and, every Wednesday night, drew live models along with Pat, Dewitt and several other local artists who lived nearby.

Dewitt taught me clean wash technique and Pat showed me how to make both etchings and dry points. After nine months, I had accumulated enough work to have a gallery opening and maybe earn a few dollars.

My show was in a gallery in nearby Springvale run by a potter friend of Dewitt’s. A bunch of Nasson College students, some artist friends of Dewitt and Pat’s and my Dad came.

My Dad was the only one to buy a painting. And, I made $40 that day.

Two months later and penniless, I knew it was time for a change. Pat convinced me that it was time to find a job. She drove me to Kennebunk and introduced me to Sandy Brook, the editor of the York County Coast Star. Under his leadership, Time magazine called it the “champagne of weekly newspapers.”

“If you can write as well as you talk, you’re hired,” Sandy told me during a short interview.  I started work as a reporter shortly after. My first articles came back from his desk marked entirely in red, but that soon changed. And, once hired full time, I never looked back. It was the beginning of my long career in communications.

At age 70, I returned to drawing and painting. I concentrate on watercolor and life drawing. Visit the Gallery section of this site to see more. And I still write.


One Day Last Month

IMG_0896My father is 94. Although  deaf and partially blind, his overall health has been good. For the past four years, he has lived at home receiving help from paid caregivers, until one day last month.

Dad had a very bad urinary tract infection that would not go away. It had begun to travel to his kidneys. He could not sleep because he constantly had to go. He didn’t want to wear diapers; it hurt his dignity. So, he struggled dozens of times to the bathroom about 10 steps from his bed. His caregivers and his family all worried that he would fall. Again.

My brother, who oversees his care day to day, told me he had to be hospitalized and that his caregiving team was very worried. But my brother had just moved into a new house, had a new job, and was finding it difficult to manage it all.

So, I flew to Colorado to help. Dad had only recently been approved for VA health benefits and was admitted to the Denver Veterans Administration hospital. His condition was “touch and go.” The young physician I first spoke to was at first puzzled, but said he and his team were hopeful. I was worried that he might be receiving substandard care, but I shouldn’t have been.

I was by Dad’s bedside for two days and I don’t recall there ever being a time when a nurse, nurse assistant or doctor wasn’t visiting. At one point, a team of physicians including the head resident stood in the room and explained in plain language just what was going on.

During one of those team consults, I told them that I had transcribed Dad’s South Pacific diary and it could be read online. Every single physician read it overnight. I recall that a few of the nurses did too. In other words, they took extra time to get to know my Dad; he was not just another number on a chart.

My brother, who has visited Dad in other nearby not-for-profit and for-profit hospitals over the past several years, said this was the most positive hospital experience he could recall. Rarely have doctors elsewhere spent the kind of time these folks had. Rarely has a team of nurses and nurse assistants been so attentive to his needs.

Dad began to recover; the doctors finally figured it out. However, since he would need a permanent catheter and round the clock care, the verdict was in. He would need long-term care in a facility; he could not return home. I was given a list of the homes the VA contracted with. Naturally, I expected the worst. But, once again, I was wrong.

With a few clicks of the mouse, I found not only an Eden Alternative home but one with stellar Nursing Home Compare ratings. It was 10 minutes from the VA hospital on a quiet city street adjacent to the city park. My brothers and I checked it out and Dad subsequently moved in.

Dad now eats with others in a common area, not alone in his apartment. He is able to walk the halls with his walker and an aide; at home, he rarely went for walks. His caregivers were concerned about his falling and their inability to pick him up. He is receiving speech therapy now, something he had trouble accessing at home through Medicare. His ex-wife and their dog can visit anytime.

So far so good. Dad seemed content the day before I had to return to Northern Virginia. He described his room, which is filled with sunlight most of the day and accommodates his furniture, artwork and family photos, as like a stateroom. This US Navy veteran of years at sea should know.

My father passed away in July 2016. 



Days of Rage Redux?

protesters-arrested-during-the-days-of-rage-chicago-11-oct-19691In 1970’s America there was a bombing somewhere in America almost every week. It was called Days of Rage. Now there are mass shootings that occur as often as that, but are far more shocking and frightening.

Yesterday, I went to the local post office. The shootings at San Bernadino were still in the headlines. The clerk and I spoke briefly about the shocking incident and I said on leaving, “Things are out of control.” To my surprise, that night on NBC Nightly News a parent of one of the victims said precisely the same thing.

I had forgotten about the Days of Rage. The bombings, when I heard or read about them, seemed distant and random. Somehow they seemed less frightening since the target was property not people. But, people did get killed and support of the Weather Undergound, if there had been any to begin with, soon disappeared.

Mass shootings are domestic terrorism, but with few exceptions seem unrelated to any consistent movement to change our society or political culture. They are random, but feel far less distant and far more frightening than the bombing of a university ROTC building or a city draft headquarters.

I remember when the Washington area was paralyzed by two mass shooters who shot innocent people randomly for weeks on end. My children’s school events were cancelled and we were even afraid to buy gas for fear the snipers would shoot us. For the first time, I knew then that it would be easy for anyone, from a foreign country or from within, to terrorize a city or the entire country. All they needed was a gun.

Today’s pundits and politicians  fear calling most mass shootings terrorism. Political leaders who send prayers to families of victims offer no solutions yet seem to get away with it.

People all over America should be angry, not just afraid. We should translate that anger into action to stop the plague of gun violence. We should challenge those who would rather pray than act. We must confront the gun power structure that holds America hostage and should be blamed for the deaths of far too many innocents.







Loonies of the Right

capitol-steps-loonies-of-the-rigThe Capitol Steps, a riotous comedy troupe based in DC, coined this phrase and use it in a song to the tune of “Music of the Night” from Phantom of the Opera. And, it has been swirling around in my head for the past few days as the roads here empty and federal employees in my neighborhood are forced to stay at home and can only guess when they next get paid.

The mean-spirited, harsh words of Republican members of Congress for government employees is beyond comprehension. The video footage of a member berating a Park Service employee for doing their job when it is because of him and other Congressional radicals like him that other employees are not getting paid is truly sickening. These people have no shame.

Worse, their tactics mean millions of children and elderly will not receive meals for weeks and, if this goes on, Social Security and Medicare could grind to a halt. But, to these people who seem to be taking pages out of the Brownshirt playbook, it’s what they wanted all along.

The Loonies of the Right are too dangerous to be funny anymore. Even with the Republican’s brilliant gerrymandering and voter suppression efforts, one only can hope that their constituents are smart enough to see through their insane behavior and send people who are willing and able to govern.

Health Reform and Secession

I live in Virginia. My attorney general has challenged the legality of the new federal health reform law and a US District Judge appointed by former President Bush gave his case the green light this week.

The AG’s case is based on a state’ rights issue that reminds me eerily of why the United States had a bloody and obviously inconclusive civil war.  He and those like him believe the federal government does not have the power to enact a law that the attorney general (and his Tea Party friends) do not like.

I actually live in what I’m sure those from Richmond south call the People’s Republic of Northern Virginia. I can tell you that many people here do talk of seceding, but from the Commonwealth of Virginia not the United States of America.

For most of my adult life I have been an advocate for older Americans. But I have also been a vocal proponent of health care reform for more than 30 years. To me what passed is a generous gift to the private  health insurance industry allowing them to reap enormous future profits. This law is hardly socialism.

And, yes it does punish those companies a bit, taking away an enormous subsidy for running Medicare Advantage Plans at taxpayer expense (saving us all a pretty penny). But, the law adds new benefits to Medicare and plugs the donut hole in Medicare prescription drug coverage.

This attorney general is ethically challenged. He would rather see families go broke because they can’t afford health coverage or have a son with cancer requiring $100,000 a year go bankrupt. He would rather see me pick up the tab for the care of people who crowd emergency rooms and have no coverage at all (it’s called cost shifting but that’s a long story).

I wonder if Arlington would be our state capitol. Or, maybe Manassas would be more appropriate.

Senior Centers and Boomers

Are senior centers doing enough to reel in baby boomers? A burning question for those who direct or lead them, what to offer to attract the largest generation in our history is a constant source of debate and discussion. Here is a public service announcement I edited as part of a student project this spring; it will be aired on a local cable public access channel. I’d be interested in thoughts from other boomers on the message. And, I’d like to hear from senior center leaders who might want to try developing a similar PSA for use in their own backyard.