Cars and older people have a tense, difficult relationship. In fact, being reliant on a car puts older people’s independence, happiness and health at risk. In contrast, having access to affordable mass transit enables older people to maintain their autonomy. AARP is on to this.
An eye-opening report recently released by AARP , Reconnecting America and the National Housing Trust identifies the Bay Area as a national leader in placing affordable housing near high-frequency transit, but also points out that tens of thousands of subsidized units are at risk of being lost in the next five years.
The study, titled “Affordable Housing in Transit-Oriented Development” (PDF), found that 89 percent of the Bay Area’s 26,710 privately owned but federally assisted housing units are located within a quarter mile of rail stations or frequent bus service, and that the contracts on three-quarters of those transit-accessible units will expire by 2014. Since high-quality transit has become increasingly attractive to wealthier individuals, the study speculates that some landlords may opt out of federal programs when their contracts expire, freeing them up to rent units at much higher rates.
Unlike public housing, federally assisted units are privately owned, and the federal government pays landlords the difference between what a tenant can reasonably pay based on their salary and the asking rent for a given unit, through programs like Section 8, Section 202, and Section 811. These units tend to be especially important to low-income seniors: nearly 56 percent of privately owned, subsidized residences are occupied by people 55 or older. Of people 75 or older receiving Federal Housing Assistance, 27.7 percent lived in privately owned, subsidized housing.
The problem is that affluent people are quick to bid up the price of housing that is convenient to public transit. This is a problem for low-income adults and fixed income seniors. What to do?
My preferred solution would be to respond to the Great Recession by investing in a vast expansion of public transit. What’s good for elders being good for everyone. We Americans are supposed to love “choice” and yet most people have no choice but to rely on cars to get around.