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San Diego County is poised to establish a subsidy pilot program for seniors at risk of homelessness as a direct response to the additional hardships older adults have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The San Diego County Board Of Supervisors on Tuesday voted to establish the Pilot Shallow Rental Subsidy Program, which would serve approximately 220 households by providing a $500 monthly subsidy over a period of 18 months. Applications for the program will open by the beginning of next year, and rental subsidies will be paid beginning March 2023. 

“Older adults on fixed, limited incomes are struggling with rising housing costs and have also become the fastest growing part of our homeless program,” said Barbara Jiménez, the County Community Operations Officer, who oversees the Department of Homeless Solutions & Equitable Communities. “This pilot program will help seniors make ends meet and remain in their homes.”

Applicants must be at least 55 years old and the head of household with a household income at or below 50% of the area median income. The applicant’s household must be severely rent-burdened, which means paying more than half of household income toward housing costs in order to qualify. 

The program will prioritize households with a head of household age 60 and older, with an income at or below 30% AMI, and located within one of the 39 Health Equity Zip Codes as defined by the Healthy Places Index. 

According to Helen Robbins-Meyer, the county’s chief administrative officer, those who participate in the program will also receive light case management services. The County Department of Homeless Solutions and Equitable Communities launched the program and is tasked with using existing communications networks, social media, community partners, and promotoras to ensure all eligible households are aware of this pilot program. 

The County’s Office of Evaluation, Performance, and Analytics will review the effectiveness of the program. If the program is effective, the county will pursue additional funding opportunities to support the sustainability of the program

The pilot program comes as the COVID-19 pandemic has created additional hardships for older adults, like experiencing economic disparities that put them at the risk of homelessness. Of the estimated 8,427 individuals experiencing homelessness throughout the region, 24 percent identified as being over 55 years of age, according to the San Dego Regional Taskforce of Homelessness' most recent Point in Time count. 

The report showed about 47% of those seniors were experiencing homelessness for the first time, with 57% having a physical disability. County officials expect to see the number of older homeless adults triple over the next decade. 

“It is important we continue to focus on ensuring seniors are able to thrive and maintain a good standard of living, said Kimberly Gallo, Aging & Independence Services director. “The Aging Roadmap provides a blueprint to help our growing population of older adults navigate the challenges and opportunities that are accompanying this shift in demographics.”

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