Bettye Jackson said she feels blessed for the things in her life. She feels blessed for her five successful children, her bountiful garden and the chance to age in a safe, comfortable neighborhood.
“This place makes you feel good about being old,” Jackson said. “I think every older person should have a place like this.”
Jackson is a resident of Hanover Estates, one of Columbia’s low-income, senior-accessible housing units. Living in the same apartment for seven years has given Jackson a sense of pride.
“I’ve taken possession of this place and made it my own,” she said. “I feel very much blessed my son and daughter-in-law found this place, and I feel blessed I was able to move in.”
Jackson, as other residents of Hanover Estates do, lives on a fixed income determined by Social Security. She pays $404 each month for rent, garbage and lawn care. Jackson says without places like Hanover Estates she could not afford to live in such a nice apartment and neighborhood.
Although Jackson has an affordable place to live, not all senior citizens in Columbia can say the same. Hanover Estates has a low-income housing limit of $26,404 for one person and a waiting list of about 15 people, said Sunshine Hane, who manages the development
Columbia has nine affordable-housing developments, four of which are available for senior use. Of the four developments, there are 197 units with only 12 vacancies. According to 2000 Census data, 8.61 percent of Columbia’s population is over 65, and the number is predicted to rise 1.4 percent every year.
Jeffrey Smith, owner of Jeffrey E. Smith Development and Hanover Estates, is also aware of the need. He recently proposed a plan to the Missouri Housing Development Commission to develop a 72-unit apartment complex for senior citizens on Nifong Boulevard and Bethel Street. He sought $700,000 in tax credits to fund the development but was denied the funds.
Smith said he is not certain why his proposal was denied, but he is confident his plan will be funded next year.
“It’s beyond my imagination that it would not be approved,” Smith said. “There is a huge need in Columbia. I just can’t imagine that it wouldn’t be approved.”
Housing Commission spokesman David Bryan agreed that Smith’s proposal was a good plan but cites too many applications and not enough funding as reasons it could not become a reality.
The commission received 111 applications last year with funding available for 40 projects.
“We can never say this far in advance what proposals we’re going to have and what we’re going to fund,” Bryan said. “Is there a possibility that we’ll fund this next year? Of course.”
Smith submitted the offer after identifying the need for affordable senior housing in Columbia. According to Smith’s survey and the Columbia Consolidated Plan for Housing and Community Development, Columbia has a need for 533 housing units — one of the largest reported needs in Missouri. Smith’s development would provide 22 units for those earning at or below 50 percent of the Area Median Income and 50 units for those at or below 60 percent of the Area Median Income.
The issue comes as no surprise to Tom Lata of Columbia Planning and Development.
“We recently did a five-year consolidated plan and have identified the need, and there’s various types of problems,” Lata said. “There’s definitely a lack of affordable and accessible housing for senior citizens. There’s a need for both new housing and retrofitting old housing.”
If Smith’s proposal had been approved, it would have achieved two of the city’s affordable housing goals — expand and preserve the supply of affordable rental housing and provide housing accessible for people with special needs.
Becky Wagner, owner of RealtyNet, says there is a shortage of affordable housing for all ages. However, seniors are more at risk because of their fixed incomes. According to a 2001 American Housing Survey, senior renter-occupied households spend 34.8 percent of their income on housing. The same survey also said “those spending 30 percent of their current income each month on housing expenses are said to have a housing cost burden.”
Lois Shelton, executive director of the Boone County Council on Aging, sees senior housing as two separate issues. She said there are programs available in the community and through the Chamber of Commerce to help seniors find housing if they have the available financial resources. However, the problem is finding housing for those without the available resources.
“The problem is for the group in the middle — those that are more affluent than low-income seniors but can’t afford nicer housing — and there are a whole lot of people in that space,” Shelton said.
Shelton said most of the problems occur when people get so old they need additional support to live in their own home. For example, they need wider hallways or rails in the bathrooms so they can use the shower and toilet; a lot of the available homes don’t have such rails and hallways.
“Mr. Smith’s proposal would have responded to that need, and I hope he will resubmit his proposal,” Shelton said.