Inaugural senior housing task force meeting held; plans for new homes, affordability discussed

Sen. Amanda Shelton (PNC file photo)

On Thursday morning, Senator Amanda L. Shelton, the legislative Chair on the Advancement of Senior Citizens, convened the first meeting of the Senior Citizens Housing Task Force, along with members from government housing and health agencies, stakeholders, and senior advocates. The group of eight came together to discuss the development of long-term solutions for Guam’s aging population.

“We have to think creatively and explore every option when it comes to providing living options for our manåmko’,” said Senator Shelton. “I am proud to serve alongside these experts in our community who have the best interests of our manåmko’ in mind. Our first meeting provided a snapshot of the work this Task Force will embark on—I am excited to continue this important work for our people.”

The task force was established by Public Law 35-140, authored by Senator Shelton, for the purpose of assessing senior housing availability and needs. The following members were present at the Task Force’s first meeting:

= Senator Amanda L. Shelton, Chair, Legislative Committee on the Advancement of Senior Citizens;
= Ms. Charlene San Nicolas, Administrator, Department of Public Health and Social Services (DPHSS) Division of Senior Citizens;
= Mrs. Edith C. Pangelinan, President, Guam Housing Corporation (GHC);
= Mr. Ray Topasna, Executive Director, Guam Housing and Urban Renewal Authority (GHURA);
= Mrs. Diana B. Calvo, General Public Member and Executive Director, Catholic Social Services;
= Mrs. Lourdes B. Mendiola, Guam Developmental Disabilities Council (GDDC) Representative;
= Ms. Michelle Perez, Deputy Director, Department of Integrated Services for Individuals with Disabilities (DISID); and
= Dr. Margaret Hattori-Uchima, Dean, University of Guam (UOG) School of Health.

Ms. Perez and Dr. Hattori-Uchima were voted as full-fledged members of the Task Force to ensure that any discussion on building or modifying facilities includes perspectives from the healthcare community and is in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Task Force awaits the appointment for two more members: a representative from the Guam Association of Realtors, to be appointed by Governor Leon Guerrero; and a representative from the Guam Council on Senior Citizens, which is yet to be empaneled.

“I recognize that many families worry because they don’t have the means to take care of their elderly loved ones, or that others have to put their careers on hold in order to care for a parent or grandparent,” said Senator Shelton. “One of the most important goals of this Task Force is to ensure that families don’t have to worry—that the elderly are properly cared for in suitable homes, whether that be with their loved ones or independently, as they age.”

Senior Housing Data

At the meeting, Mr. Topasna provided data on current seniors living in public housing and those on GHURA’s waitlist. There are currently 12,700 individuals and families living in various GHURA public housing, and 1,067 of them are 55 years and older—representing about 8.4 percent of those in public housing. There are currently 408 seniors on GHURA’s waitlist for public housing, representing about 14.2 percent of the waitlist total. This data does not account for senior citizens living with or applying with family members, which will be provided by GHURA in future meetings.

Senior citizens, who often subsist on fixed or minimal incomes, can avail of subsidized housing offered through the Guam Housing and Urban Renewal Authority (GHURA), the Guam Housing Corporation (GHC), and Catholic Social Services, though many of those services prioritize lower-income applicants. The Task Force, however, says that more can be done to offer housing to waitlisted seniors. Further still, many senior citizens lack the means to afford unsubsidized assisted-care facilities. San Nicolas says that though cheaper than nursing homes, assisted-living facilities can cost less than $25,000 and up to $50,000 a year, depending on the facilities and services required.

“We need to discuss all available options before us, then recommend the best path forward to the Governor, agencies, and the legislature to develop policy that will produce the greatest results for our manåmko’ in need,” said Senator Shelton.

New, existing, and affordable

Members of the Task Force also discussed available options to them, including:

Utilizing federal tax credits and HUD grant money allocated to GHURA to construct new low-income homes, including senior independent- and assisted-living facilities;
identifying suitable existing properties in GHURA and GHC inventory to convert into senior homes, and offering GHURA vouchers to seniors for renting from private operators.

In addition, GHURA stands to be granted an additional $31 million dollars through a bill before the United States Congress, which GHURA may use towards the development of new or conversion of existing low-income housing.

Dr. Hattori-Uchima also described the importance of developing the caregiver workforce through training programs, such as the Geriatric Workforce Enhancement Program (GWEP) at UOG’s School of Health, to assist professional caregivers and family members who may be learning caregiving practices on their own.

After presenting to the Task Force the paths available to them, Director Topasna said, “I hope everything we talk about is an option that will be considered.” He continued later saying, “I just want to put all options on the table and see which ones we can do as expeditiously as possible.”

At the meeting’s end, Senator Shelton asked Task Force members to begin developing goals for the Task Force’s work, which center around existing and new senior homes, and affordability by:

= Providing housing for our manåmko’ within stable and attractive communities through the maintenance, renovation, and modification of existing homes;

= Producing new housing that meets the needs of our manåmko’ while not detracting from existing neighborhoods; and

= Providing affordable and diverse housing to meet the needs of low and moderate-income senior citizens.

A recording of the meeting is available on the Guam Legislature’s YouTube channel.

The Task Force’s next meeting is scheduled for November 18, 2021, at 10:00 a.m.