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Solutions for Affordable and Adequate Housing for Older Adults

Sister Lillian Murphy of Mercy Housing

Sister Lillian Murphy, CEO of Mercy Housing, a nonprofit developer of affordable homes in 43 states.

The thought of losing your home, living in substandard housing or choosing between paying your rent or buying food is unimaginable to most Americans.  Yet today, it is a reality for an increasing number, including older people.  With a sluggish economy and a national unemployment rate floating above nine percent. Home prices continue to slide, and more than one in five homeowners with mortgages owe more than their homes are worth, according to the data vendor CoreLogic. According to AARP Foundation Housing Impact Area, Vice President, Vivian Vasallo, at least 13 million 50 plus households currently live in housing that is unaffordable or inadequate. 

AARP Foundation is committed to helping develop solutions that will address the housing challenges of older Americans. Critical to our work is to hear from housing leaders across the country.  One of the people we are listening to is Sister Lillian Murphy, CEO of Mercy Housing, a nonprofit developer of affordable homes in 43 states. 

For nearly 30 years, Mercy Housing has been developing affordable, program-enriched housing for low-income families, seniors and people with special needs.  To date, Mercy Housing has participated in the development, preservation and/or financing of more than 39,700 affordable homes.

Mercy Housing has long been recognized as a leader in establishing innovative partnerships that help meet the needs of their clients.  For example, Mercy Housing is working with large healthcare institutions to provide adequate and affordable housing which lead to better health outcomes, reduced costs, and a more fulfilling life for the older clients they serve. “We came together,” says Sister Lillian, “because both of us were trying to serve the needs of low-income people in our areas.”

According to the Center for Disease Control, one-third of older people have a chronic condition. This could range from diabetes to AIDS to arthritis. “Hospitals were trying to take care of them in their emergency rooms, which was costly and not very effective.  But they didn’t belong in nursing homes, either,” she says.

“Much of today’s health care system in the U.S. seems to require that older people either get the whole package – assisted living and nursing homes – or you get nothing.  Mercy Housing is really a step between the two.  Everyone doesn’t need the whole package, and we are serving people in a residential environment at much less cost.”   

The health care savings are robust, too. In California, 40 residents who did not need full-time nursing care were relocated to apartments at Mercy Housing’s Mission Creek Senior Community, which also has adult day services for the residents who required them.  The new residents thrived, and Sister Lillian recalls a letter state officials sent her a couple of years later.  “They told me that the Department had saved $28,000 for each person a year for two years in nursing home costs,” she says. “What we have found is that stable residential housing for low income seniors can keep health care costs down, too.”

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