April 2, 2016
By Rena Heath and Sammee Quong
Last Tuesday, AARP Maine held a news conference in the State House Welcome Center to demand the immediate release of housing bond funds earmarked for older Mainers in need of affordable housing. We spoke at the news conference and told personal stories about friends and family who are or have been desperate to find an affordable home in which to live and age. Without the release of the housing bond funds, too many Mainers are trapped in an intolerable waiting game.
Rena Heath: I spent my whole career serving the state of Maine and continue to spend much of my time following issues at the State House. Last session, I was particularly interested in a bond the Legislature approved to invest $15 million in affordable housing for older Mainers.
I even testified in support of the housing bond before the Appropriations Committee and personally spoke with legislators to urge them to vote in favor of the housing bond. They voted yes, and so did the overwhelming majority of the people of Maine on Election Day. Their votes should be respected.
Just like many Mainers across the state, I’ve rented an apartment for most of my life. A few years ago, my building changed hands and the rent increased to an amount I could no longer afford. I was lucky, as I didn’t have to wait very long for an affordable option to become available. This isn’t the case for the thousands of older Mainers on a waiting list for a home just like mine.
Sammee Quong: At the AARP Maine news conference, I told the story of my friend Loraine, who only recently was able to move into senior housing. My friend was unable to remain in her own residence because, as she aged, she could no longer manage to climb stairs. She once fell while I was with her. She was clearly in danger of serious injury if she remained where she was.
Loraine also had become isolated from her friends and family when she gave up her driver’s license. Unable to leave her home without significant help, she often chose to remain indoors rather than risk another fall. Her building was not close to public transportation, which only exacerbated her loneliness and isolation.
Just like Rena, Loraine was lucky. She is in her 90s, and her options, especially on a low income, were dwindling. But thanks to a move into affordable senior housing, she is now in a home that is on one floor, which will enable her to live independently for years to come.
These are just two examples of how important it is for our older residents to have accessible, affordable housing. We know there are about 9,000 vulnerable Mainers who need affordable housing right now, and the numbers are increasing yearly. This money will change people’s lives but only if the funds are released as they should be.
All Mainers deserve to age with dignity. Living in fear of losing your home because you cannot afford it or becoming isolated because you cannot climb stairs is not what that means. Mainers young and old voted in favor of addressing the housing concerns of some of Maine’s most at-risk residents through a bond, but the funds have not been released.
We are wondering why the election results are not being honored. The housing bond funds should be released today — not in five months or five years, as has been suggested.
Our bottom line is this: People want to be safe and stay in their own homes and in their own communities as they age. That’s aging with dignity.