By Meghan Hendricksen

A shortage of affordable housing for seniors will pose a huge challenge for the United States in the years ahead. But finding homes for those elders is only part of the solution, according to Alisha Sanders.

Helping seniors deal with health issues locally and age in place in their homes should be an important element of any housing plan, she said.

Sanders, director of Housing & Services Policy Research at LeadingAge, was the final fall speaker series guest at UMass Boston’s Gerontology Department. Her talk, “Affordable Senior Housing Plus Services: Meeting the Needs of Low-Income Seniors,” stressed the value of providing housing and services together.

The senior affordable housing crunch isn’t just a problem on the horizon. It has existed for years and grown dramatically. Thousands of low-income seniors struggle to find affordable housing. For many, rent eats up a large portion of their monthly income. A growing number of seniors find themselves homeless. Sanders said seniors accounted for 11 percent of America’s homeless population in 1990, but they had become half of the total by 2013 and that share was expected to increase in the future.

Pairing services with affordable housing for seniors, especially those with complex needs, can be a crucial step in preventing medical emergencies and would be cost effective, said Sanders, a fellow at the LeadingAge LTSS Center @UMass Boston.

She highlighted experiences in Oregon, Vermont and Pennsylvania as examples of what can be accomplished when senior housing plus services is effectively implemented.

In Oregon, including services with housing meant they could reach more residents with higher needs, that their residents were more likely to participate in preventative health services, and that emergency department use decreased.

In Pennsylvania, residents who had care coordination had similar outcomes, and were also less likely to report negative health conditions, and less likely to move to a nursing home. Vermont also was able to show the cost savings of these outcomes to Medicare.