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How Georgia lawmakers plan to address affordable housing shortages for seniors
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Joann Jones, left, and Laura Eberhardt do beadwork together Friday, April 5, 2019, at the Gainesville Hall County Senior Center. A new state legislative study committee will review and recommend ways to address affordable housing shortages for seniors, something locals say is sorely needed. - photo by Scott Rogers

Linda Rider is thankful she’s been provided a trailer to call home in Gainesville.

For many seniors like her, finding affordable housing is a challenge made difficult by a growing elderly population in Hall County and a shortage of rental units.

Rider said she’d like to see local government or developers rehabilitate dilapidated properties for low-income residents.  

“I don’t know why they can’t fix them up and give them to those who are homeless or can’t afford rent,” she said. “Can’t nobody afford these new homes.”

More than 1.3 million people 65 and over live in Georgia.

“But what’s going to happen in the not-too-distant future, when Georgia’s 65-and-older population is expected to double?” Vicki Johnson, chair of the Georgia Council on Aging, said in a press release.

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T&T Transportation driver Demetrous Montgomery helps Evelyn Jackson off the bus Friday, April 5, 2019, at the Gainesville Hall County Senior Center. A new state legislative study committee will review and recommend ways to address affordable housing shortages for seniors, something locals say is sorely needed. - photo by Scott Rogers

There is currently not enough affordable housing available for seniors across the state, Johnson added.

That’s why a House study committee will launch in the legislative “off season” to explore ways to address affordable housing shortages and “independent living” options for seniors.

The House Study Committee on Innovative Financial Options for Senior Living will have five members who will make recommendations by December for lawmakers to consider in 2020.

According to the resolution creating the committee, “In 2016, the number of adults in Georgia age 65 or older and living below the federal poverty level was 134,000, or 10 percent, and the number living below 250 percent of the federal poverty level was 540,000, or 40 percent.”

U.S. Census numbers also show a graying of Hall County. The senior age group makes up 14.7 percent of Hall’s population, or 29,302, up more than 2,000 since 2016 and more than double overall since 2000.

And residents 65 and older are making up much of Hall’s annual population growth.

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Pat Cunningham puts away beading supplies Friday, April 5, 2019, at the Gainesville Hall County Senior Center. A new state legislative study committee will review and recommend ways to address affordable housing shortages for seniors, something locals say is sorely needed. - photo by Scott Rogers

Between 2010 and 2016, for example, the 65 and older population made up 36 percent of the county’s overall 7.7 percent growth.

Nancy Simpson, program coordinator at the Senior Life Center in Gainesville, said visitors often inquire about housing resources.

“We do need more affordable housing for seniors,” said Elizabeth Maxey, a frequent visitor to senior center. “I see the need.”

Pat Cunningham recently moved into the Walton Summit apartments on EE Butler Parkway in Gainesville, a mixed-income development that includes public, income restricted, market rate and seniors-only units.

Relying on her social security benefits, Cunningham said she is now saving a few hundred dollars extra each month, giving her some financial wiggle room.

“So, I had to really budget,” Cunningham said about living at her previous apartment, where she was spending more than half her monthly income on rent, a figure the federal government refers to as “cost burdened.”

Cunningham said the study committee was “an excellent idea.”

Georgia lawmakers approved about $5.6 million in funding for senior and aging services in the state’s 2020 fiscal year budget, according to the Council on Aging.

Funding is allocated for the hiring of 22 new caseworkers to address elder abuse complaints, for example.

And $2 million is directed to help clear a backlog of nearly 7,000 Georgians seeking home-based services, such as personal assistance and transportation needs.

“We know that our elderly population is growing, and more seniors are seeking help so they can stay at home and out of expensive nursing homes,” Johnson said. “This is a win for seniors and taxpayers since home and community care cost the state about one-tenth of nursing home care.”

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Garet Miller walks inside Gainesville Hall County Senior Center the Friday, April 5, 2019, after a lunch in town with other seniors. A new state legislative study committee will review and recommend ways to address affordable housing shortages for seniors, something locals say is sorely needed. - photo by Scott Rogers