Middle-Income Aged Are Getting Squeezed

ONE group of elderly Americans that has really been squeezed out of federally subsidized housing during the 1980s is the moderate-income elderly, says Larry A. McNickle of the American Association of Homes for the Aging. They have too much income to qualify for federally subsidized apartments under the current stringent income limits. But they don't have enough money to afford many private retirement complexes that provide group dining rooms and other supportive services.

As the federal government cut back on housing subsidies during the '70s and '80s, it rewrote housing programs so that the elderly were required to be poorer to be eligible for subsidized housing then being constructed. The newer the housing, the stricter the eligibility.

For instance, 30 percent of the elderly in subsidized housing built 15 to 30 years ago have more than $10,000 in income a year. But only 7 percent in subsidized complexes built in the last four years have incomes over $10,000.

No one knows how many Americans are in the squeezed-out category. Although experts say they would like to provide aid, most Washington officials point to the needs of low-income elderly - and nonelderly - as requiring help first.

In order to help the moderate-income elderly, ``we have talked about trying to expand'' the subsidized-housing program for the elderly, says Thomas Humbert, deputy assistant secretary for policy of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. ``We are still considering it (but first) we want to meet the need'' of the poor.

One new federal program might help. It guarantees the loans that banks make to 2,500 elderly homeowners who have considerable equity in their homes but little money in their pockets. Typically banks pay homeowners a sum each month; thus it's called a reverse mortgage. The money is repaid to the bank when the homeowner sells the house or dies. Experts on aging think this concept could aid many moderate-income elderly, inasmuch as three in four elderly Americans own their homes.

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