Meeting focuses on seniors' housing needs; HUD secretary describes program to help elderly people keep their homes


The number of seniors using federal programs to get reverse mortgages on their homes has quadrupled in the last 10 years, saving thousands of cash-strapped older Americans from the loss of their residences, U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Andrew M. Cuomo told a Baltimore convention on senior housing yesterday.

Because of the program's success, Cuomo said he wants to expand the HUD Housing Security Plan for Older Americans introduced by the Clinton administration last year. U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes told convention attendees that he will introduce the legislation to extend the initiative to include assisted-living facilities.

Under the program's current form, cash-poor homeowners can apply for a reverse mortgage, in which they exchange equity on their homes for regular monthly payments or a line of credit. Of 38,000 reverse mortgages that have been granted through the program, only 388 have ended in claims against the insurance fund established by HUD to protect it.

At the HUD conference held at the Baltimore Convention Center, Cuomo pointed to the program as an example of improvements to senior housing that have been accomplished under Clinton.

"One's golden years are not so golden if you can't afford to repair the roof of the home you own or find an apartment or assisted living to meet your needs," Cuomo said.

The new Clinton effort includes a $50 million request from Congress to help build more than 7,500 assisted-living units, about 1,500 of which would be for low-income seniors.

The average price for assisted-living housing for seniors exceeds $1,800 per month. Last year, the program allowed Section 8 vouchers for elderly housing to be applied to assisted living.

U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley joined Cuomo and Sarbanes at the convention, called "Keeping the American Dream: Meeting the Challenges of the Golden Years." Mikulski noted that by the year 2030 the nation's elderly population will double.

O'Malley said that supporting federal housing efforts for seniors is integral to repaying parents and grandparents for raising families.

He said the government should "ensure that as the elderly pass on the American Dream to their children, they aren't stripped of that dream themselves."

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