Prepared Remarks of Secretary Shaun Donovan at the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations

Leading Age, Washington D.C.
Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Thank you, Larry, for that kind introduction and for more than 35 years of leadership on behalf of our nation's seniors. And thanks to Nancy Libson of Leading Age, as well.

Most of all, I'd like to thank to all of you for being here today. This Council may be made up of dozens of diverse organizations -- from the representatives of retired union workers to faith-based organizations to groups that focus on the health care needs of aging Americans.

But you all share one thing in common -- you're working to ensure that every senior in this country can retire with the dignity and independence they deserve.

That's our goal in the Obama Administration as well -- and I'm proud to call each and every one of you a partner.

Seniors in the 21st Century

And as important as that partnership has been, it's about to become even more critical.

In 20 years, more than 70 million Americans will have reached retirement age.

By 2040, our senior population will have doubled.

That means more demand for home and community-based services. It means more demand for transportation, and for buildings and homes that are accessible.

But the size of our senior population isn't the only thing that's changing. Perhaps even more importantly, aging itself is in the midst of a transformation -- one that will have lasting consequences for our families, our communities, and our economy.

Consider for a moment what a 62-year old woman beginning to think about retirement would have faced only a quarter-century ago.

Then, she would know with certainty that by the time she turned 65 she would leave the workforce, assuming she was in the workforce to begin with. And the decision to retire might well not have even been up to her.

Then, she could be reasonably confident that her grown children would live in the same town or neighborhood as her--maybe even the same house--and could rely on them to take care of her needs as she aged.

And as those needs grew, her family would be faced with the difficult decision to keep her at home with them -- or put her in a nursing home, forcing her to give up the home she had lived in for decades -- located in her neighborhood, filled with her memories, and with pictures of her family on the wall.

In many cases, this entire story would have played out before she'd even reached 75.

Well, today is very different. If I can coin a phrase, "these ain't your mother and father's seniors."

Today, a majority of older workers now view retirement not as the last stage of life, but as an opportunity for a whole new chapter in life.

According to a recent survey, two out of every three seniors said they would prefer to keep working during at least some of the traditional retirement years, not because they have to, but because they actually want to.

And that isn't the only thing that's changing about the way older Americans are spending their so-called retirements.

Fewer seniors expect their children to care for them as they age -- in fact, I think a lot of them would prefer if they didn't.

That may sound like a joke. But the truth is, seniors of all economic backgrounds are increasingly seeing retirement as an opportunity to do all the things that they weren't able to with a job and raising a family -- traveling, volunteering, auditing college classes, taking up a hobby.

In some ways above all else, seniors today prize their independence -- their ability to continue experiencing everything life has to offer.

But the truth is, even as the way our seniors age has fundamentally shifted, for too long, the way our country has provided seniors with health care and housing hasn't.

That's not only bad for seniors -- it's also bad for taxpayers, who, after all, are footing the bill.

And so, today, I want to talk to you about how the Obama Administration has begun to integrate the way we provide health care and housing -- how we are not only putting our housing programs on a more stable financial footing for the future, but really ensuring that housing can be the platform for providing the quality of life our seniors deserve.

HUD's Work to Strengthen Senior Housing

Indeed, given the desire for independence among seniors, ensuring seniors have quality, affordable housing is in some ways more important than it's been in several generations.

Let's not forget the deplorable conditions our elderly, even those with moderate incomes, were living in only a half century ago.

Then, seniors had virtually no supportive services that would allow them to live independently.

Then, there was no such thing as a continuum of housing choices for seniors -- or housing support from government to support the aging process.

Simply put, the right of every senior to a safe, affordable home after a lifetime of hard work and paying taxes was not a priority for the Federal government.

But with passage of the National Housing Act, that began to change. Since that time, we have produced 400,000 units of permanent supportive housing for the elderly and 30,000 units for the disabled.

And today, I'm proud to say that HUD provides housing to over 1 million of our nation's seniors.

It's a commitment that begins with the Section 202 program, which has helped dramatically change the housing landscape for our nation's seniors.

By engaging the private sector and the non-profit and faith-based communities to produce and preserve affordable rental housing for our seniors, the Section 202 program has provided thousands of seniors the opportunity to live independently with dignity.

Today, Section 202 serves 130,000 older Americans -- and even in this tough budget environment, we've requested nearly half a billion dollars for this critical program, including $90 million for service coordinators who will link residents with the supportive services they need.

But even more importantly, this year we're proposing to improve the way 202 funds are used to support new projects -- focusing our investment on operating subsidies, and relying increasingly on state housing agencies to step in with the upfront capital and development oversight.

These changes--which build on changes in the Section 202 reform bill President Obama signed into law--allow HUD's resources to ensure that very low-income seniors--including those who are frail or at-risk of frailty--can benefit from existing mainstream affordable housing funded by sources like Low-Income Housing Tax Credits and the HOME program.

As any owner or manager of senior housing knows, many low-income seniors can't afford to pay rents that are high enough to even cover operating costs. That's why the long-term rental assistance provided by the 202 program is so important.

And with this proposal, HUD will be able to more effectively leverage private and local dollars to create far more units for older Americans than we otherwise would be able to in this fiscal environment -- up to 3,400 new affordable, accessible homes this year alone.

This investment will not only allow seniors to age in residential settings rather than nursing homes, but also provide critical services that will help reduce the need for expensive institutional nursing care and high Medicare and Medicaid costs.

That's a good deal for seniors and taxpayers alike.

That's why we're piloting similar innovations in public housing. Indeed, while Section 202 is well-known for being HUD's targeted housing program for seniors, we also serve more than 325,000 seniors in existing public housing.

As important as these resources are for every kind of affordable housing, for housing that serves elderly Americans, they are absolutely essential.

That's because in addition to trying to figure out how to pay for fixing a boiler or replacing a leaky roof, owners are also trying to figure out how to make their properties accessible to wheelchairs and on-site services.

These innovations to public housing and 202 will give communities more resources to make that possible -- and in so doing, ensure HUD can keep one of our deepest, most historic commitments: providing quality, affordable housing to every senior who needs it.

Housing as a Platform

While these reforms are critical to preserving affordable housing for seniors -- just as important are the steps we are taking to ensure housing is connected to the to services seniors need to spend their retirement years living with real independence.

For me, for President Obama, and for partners like Secretary Sebelius at the Department of Health and Human Services, it's simple:

When aging itself is undergoing such a dramatic transformation, government needs to change as well.

That means getting stronger, more targeted information on what seniors need to successfully age in place.

It means cutting through the red tape to forge new partnerships that better connect housing and supportive services.

In short, for the Obama Administration it means a Federal government doesn't tell seniors what they need -- but actually listens to what they want.

That's why HUD joined with HHS to design an Aging in Place demonstration for seniors in affordable housing.

Already, HUD and HHS have made enormous strides to promote independent living for the disabled community -- to learn how public housing authorities and state Medicaid agencies can work together to support people with disabilities transitioning from institutional care to community living.

With this study, we are looking to develop a platform for supporting America's senior population -- providing new information about how seniors receive health care services in HUD-assisted housing.

And for the first time ever, this study will merge a number of databases compiled by HUD and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services at HHS.

Now, I know merging databases may not sound like "change you can believe in."

But in the sphere of government, matching data from two large federal agencies like HUD and HHS, compiled by dozens of programs with hundreds of IT systems--some of which date back to the Commodore 64--it's nothing short of a revolution.

Nowhere is it clearer that it's not just our population that's aging -- so too is the way government has traditionally approached their housing and health needs, from the technology we use to the kind of information we share.

But by designing a demonstration that connects HUD housing data with health care data compiled by HHS, we can begin to get an unprecedented picture of seniors living in affordable housing -- from who they are and the scope of their health care needs, to the most cost-effective ways we can provide the services they need.

We're proud that Leading Age is one of our core partners for this effort -- and while I look forward to its completion by the end of the year, given its promise I would ask all of you today to do everything you can to complete this work as quickly as possible.

Indeed, as you know with the grant you are working on from the MacArthur Foundation, the sooner we have this demonstration designed and underway, the sooner we will be able to resolve one of the most pressing policy questions our country faces:

Can affordable housing can meet the long-term health care needs of low-income seniors -- at the same time it reduces costs for the taxpayer?

I believe it can.

I believe it can be every bit the cost-effective platform for seniors that it is for people living with disabilities and for America's homeless population.

But with this demonstration and the grant that builds on it, we will finally have the research we need to answer that question once and for all.

Serving Seniors in the 21st Century

So, let's be clear about the implications for this work -- not just this demonstration and study, but also our work to reform 202 and public housing:

By teaching those of us at the federal level to "speak the same language" when it comes to the housing and health needs of our nation's seniors, it changes the way taxpayer dollars are used and how many of them we need to use.

It means health care and housing for seniors aren't addressed in isolation by the Federal government, but in the same interconnected way seniors experience them.

By integrating housing and services in unprecedented new ways, it means more seniors will have the chance to live independently for a longer period of time.

And ultimately, it means more seniors, regardless of economic circumstance, will be able to live out their retirements not in institutions, but in their homes and in the communities where they built their lives and raised their families.

With not just their care providers, but their friends and loved ones.

Not preparing for the end, but with the promise that this stage in life can actually be a new beginning.

That's what this conference represents. It's the future the Obama Administration is working to ensure. And it's why I'm so proud to join you all today.

So, thank you -- for inviting me today, and for the work you all do. I look forward to answering your questions.


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