Tax credits may help retirees find affordable housing

September 22, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Millions of American seniors are struggling to find affordable housing these days. It is a growing problem that is made even worse for Bay Area retirees because of the high cost of living here.

Living in the dorms while studying at Cal State East Bay had its perks, but when Ida Cotton graduated with a masters in gerontology last June, she nearly became homeless.

"I had been trying for seven months before graduation to find some place that was affordable, but then I never could find a place," said Cotton.

At 85 years of age, Cotton's job opportunities are slim, and she's on a fixed income of $900 a month.

Fortunately, she got into the Altenheim Affordable Housing Community in Oakland.

"Yes, and I cry. They're tears of joy. I never dreamed that this would happen to me," said Cotton.

Cotton is part of a fast-growing population across the country in need of housing; 3.4 million seniors live below the poverty line.

"We have 174 apartments here at the Altenheim and we have over 200 people on the waiting list," said Executive Director of Eden Housing Linda Mandolini.

And that's why advocates for seniors are developing more affordable senior housing through tax credit equity.

"The state gives groups like Eden -- a non-profit -- tax credits, but because we're a non-profit, we don't need the tax credits. So we sell them to a corporation who invests in the tax credits. So in exchange for an equity investment in our property, they get back a credit on their taxes," said Mandolini.

Through these public-private partnerships, Cotton only pays $300 a month for a one-bedroom apartment, but the wave of retiring baby boomers is outpacing the amount of affordable housing and federal funds for housing has been slashed the last three years, posing a serious public policy question.

"How are we going to afford more affordable housing for senior like Ida Cotton?" asked Mandolini.


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