Loneliness Found to Be High in Public Senior Housing Communities

Older adults living in public senior housing communities experience a large degree of loneliness, finds a new study from the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis.

Nevertheless, senior housing communities may be ideal locations for reducing that loneliness, the study finds.

“There are many studies on loneliness among community-dwelling older adults; however, there is limited research examining the extent and correlates of loneliness among older adults who reside in senior housing communities,” wrote Harry Chatters Taylor, doctoral student at the Brown School and lead author of “Loneliness in Senior Housing Communities,” published in the Journal of Gerontological Social Work.

The study was co-authored by Yi Wang, doctoral student at the Brown School, and Nancy Morrow-Howell, the Bettie Bofinger Brown Distinguished Professor of Social Policy and the director of the Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging.

The study examines the extent of loneliness in three public senior housing communities in the St. Louis area. Two of the three complexes were in urban neighborhoods, and the last was located in a suburban neighborhood. All were publicly funded under Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly Program. Data for the project was collected with survey questionnaires with a total sample size of 148 respondents. Loneliness was measured using the Hughes 3-item loneliness scale. Additionally, the questionnaire contained measures on socio-demographics, health/mental health, social engagement and social support.

‘We believe that senior housing communities could become ideal locations for reducing loneliness among older adults.’

Results showed approximately 30.8 percent of the sample was not lonely; 42.7 percent was moderately lonely, and 26.6 percent was severely lonely. In analyzing the data, researchers found loneliness was primarily associated with depressive symptoms.

“We speculate that loneliness may be higher in senior housing communities for a few important reasons,” Taylor said. “The first is older adults residing in senior housing communities often have greater risk for loneliness. In order to qualify to live in these senior housing communities, older adults must have a low income, and having a lower income is a risk factor for loneliness.

“Additionally, most of the residents we interviewed identified their marital status as single, which is another risk factor for greater loneliness. Many older adults living in senior housing communities also have greater health and mental health vulnerabilities, which increases the likelihood that an older adult will experience loneliness.”

Despite all that, the study finds, senior housing communities may be better suited to combat loneliness than traditional residential homes.

“We believe that senior housing communities could become ideal locations for reducing loneliness among older adults,” Taylor said. “Senior housing communities are embedded in communities with peers who may have similar age and life experiences. There are occasional activities and support from senior housing management to encourage the building of friendships, bonds and social support among senior housing residents.

“Most senior housing communities also have a common space or multipurpose room available for use, which can also help facilitate building bonds between residents. Senior housing communities are frequently located close to public transportation, which provides access to transportation for residents without automobiles.”

Still, loneliness is frequently a stigmatized condition, he said.

“We often do not like to talk about our feelings of loneliness,” Taylor said. “For practitioners, it is important to be patient when working with older adults, and it could take a while for an older adult, regardless if they reside in a senior housing facility, to admit they are feeling lonely.

“Whether you are a child, relative or family member to an older adult, or provide services to older adults, be patient when discussing issues of loneliness and mental health with older adults.”

Housing in Blue, Homeless in Red

housing

Today public housing continues to exist, but eligibility and aid depends on one’s location. While the federal government has developed nation-wide programs, states and local agencies provide the actual housing to their citizens. A state must follow the federal guidelines but can determine how much aid it receives, and each state can set some of its own guidelines in terms of preferential treatment and eligibility. All this means that one’s state of choice, particularly the choice between a red or blue state, will determine his or her level of aid in terms of public housing.

Before looking at the differences at state level though, let’s cover today’s policies. The basic principles of public housing today have stayed consistent with the policies beginning in the 1960’s when civil rights were first being incorporated. In 1974, Nixon created the Section 8 Rental Assistance Program, which is still very much alive today. The program provides rental certificates for low-income families to use to pay a portion of their rent on privately owned units. This was a change from the past policies because it allowed low-income families to break away from large public housing facilities and instead lease private units. At the time, families were expected to pay 30 percent of their income toward rent and utilities and then HUD, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, would cover the rest as long as it was under the maximum aid level. It seemed that the 1960’s brought positive changes, but in the 1980’s housing programs were dramatically cut. The 1990’s saw a huge increase in the need for homeless shelters due to the lack of public housing. Today, while subsidizing of housing projects has continued to decline, more rent vouchers and Section 8 certificates are being handed out each year.

But how have the changes come about in different states? Massachusetts is viewed as the prime example of a blue state and has one of the best public housing programs in the country. This is generally because Massachusetts applies for and accepts a great deal of federal funding. In addition, the state has low qualifications in terms of who can receive public housing assistance. For example, in order to qualify for the Section 8 Rental Assistance Voucher, one must simply show records of being a good tenant in the past and take in 80% or less than the median income in their community. Statewide, the income limit to qualify as a single person is $45,100 annually.

Texas, on the other hand, is viewed as a strong red state and is not highly prized for its public housing program. In fact, the state accepts much less federal aid and therefore has a much smaller public housing budget than Massachusetts, despite having a population four times the size of MA. Additionally, a single person must take in $33,650 annually or less in Texas to qualify for public housing aid. While the eligibility is calculated based upon the state’s median income; there are large gaps in terms of eligibility between states. In addition, the private sector in Texas has refused to aid low-income families in terms of housing. This means that citizens must rely solely on public sector housing, much of which is in poor condition as, in general, it has not been updated since the 1930s.

While in many eyes the Texas system is flawed, those in opposition to public housing would support Texas over Massachusetts. Many believe that public housing gives people a crutch and allows them to take unearned money. Others argue that public housing should have a time limit so that people have an incentive to work hard and get off the aid. While one can hope that one day public housing programs will no longer be needed, it should be not out of lack of funding or desire, but instead because it is no longer needed.  Until that day though, housing is a basic need that needs to be met regardless of race or income.

While public housing is a federally supported program, it is run by the local public housing authorities. It is up to the PHAs to determine how their public housing system will be run. The federal government applies a base funding to all, but when more funds are available, states can apply for more money. This often means, out of each state’s own choice and differences in opinions about public aid, that blue states will have larger public housing budgets than red states. Therefore, it is clear that a low-income family is much better off living in a blue state.

The right to a quality home should not, however, depend on one’s exact location within the United States. As a social worker, it shall be one’s duty to advocate for adequate housing for all, as shelter is a basic human need. For, as Cohn said, “this country has room for different approaches to policy. It doesn’t have room for different standards of human decency.”

References

Cohn, J. (2012, October 25). Blue states are from Scandinavia, red states are from Guatemala: a theory

of a divided nation. The New Republic. Retrieved from http://www.newrepublic.com/article/politics/magazine/108185/blue-states-are-scandinavia-red-states-are-guatemala#

HUD. (n.d.). Housing choice vouchers fact sheet. Retrieved from

Mass Resources. (n.d.). Public housing. Retrieved from http://www.massresources.org/public-housing.html

Texas Housing. (n.d.). Public housing in Texas. Retrieved from

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The History of Public Housing: Started over 70 Years Ago, yet Still Evolving…

 

public housing

The American government, it seems, has always been a part of providing public housing, and it’s no surprise considering shelter is one of the basic human needs for survival. Today, the federal government takes general responsibility of the task, but it was not always that way. In fact, prior to the 1930’s, local governments, most often the county, provided the needed shelter. However, it should be noted that, the services during those times were almost exclusively for Caucasian citizens and minorities were often forgotten. So how did public housing reach its current state? Let’s take a look at the trek that it has endured thus far.

In 1937, the federal government became officially involved with public housing under the United States Housing Act. This act truly came out of President Roosevelt’s New Deal which started in 1933. The goal of this act was to improve the current unsafe and unsanitary housing conditions and to lessen the extreme shortage of decent housing for low-income families. At the time, low-income was defined as those who were in the lowest income group and could not afford to pay rent to private landlords. Additionally, the only original qualifications that had to be met were that the families’ incomes could be no greater than five times the cost of rent, or six times in the case of families with three or more children. Efforts were made to reach the goal of the act through loans to public housing agencies to support low-rent public housing construction.

The 1940’s followed with a new president, Truman, and he developed the Office of Housing Expenditure. Then, in 1949 under the office’s guidance, an act was passed, the first Housing Act. This act came out of President Truman’s Fair Deal. The goal was to provide enough funds to rid neighborhoods of slums and develop new housing. The new housing was mostly developed for the World War II veterans and did not provide much aid to those who were not. In fact, the act did not aid those in the slum areas, but instead dislodged them from their homes and forced many low-income families to find new residence.

A second Housing Act was passed in 1954, when President Eisenhower held office. This act was a huge turning point because it focused on conserving and rehabilitating the slum areas. Then later the Housing Act of 1956 made amends for the first housing act by giving relocation payments to all who were displaced.

It’s important to note that up until this point, public housing was discriminatory. The majority of the previous acts were of no aid to minority groups and instead focused on Caucasians and often those not of the lowest economic status. In fact, through the 1950’s very strict policies were in place in many housing facilities. Pregnant women who were not married could be evicted and property damage was charged with outrages fines.

However, beginning in the 1960’s basic rights began to be recognized. This was a time when many were working toward equal treatment of all humans, regardless of race, gender or class. One inspiring social worker who was doing just that was Whitney Young, Jr.  Young advocated for civil rights and his name is still widely known today. It was in 1962, when the Equal Opportunity in Housing Act was passed under President Kennedy, that civil rights and housing became united.

The 1960’s were a huge turning point for public housing, and the majority of the policies started at that point still continue on today. The public housing industry shifted from providing low-grade, segregated and discriminatory housing to a program that ideally should serve everyone equally. Just as social workers like Whiney Young, Jr. did in the past, social workers must continue to advocate today for the best possible solutions to public housing.

References:

RHOL. (n.d.). Government’s role in low-income housing. Retrieved from http://rhol.org/rental/housing.htm

Stoloff, J. A. (n.d.). A brief history of public housing. Retrieved from

U.S Dept of Homes & Urban Development. (2007, May 18). Hud historical background. Retrieved from

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