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Tom Egan – How Do We Continue to Provide Affordable Housing for Seniors?

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Tom Egan
Tom Egan

In this episode of Boomer Living, we have Tom Egan. He provides overall executive leadership for FSL [Foundation for Senior Living], oversees the day-to-day operations, provides fiduciary oversight, and is actively involved in fund development. Tom promotes greater awareness of FSL within the community and guides the vision and strategic direction for FSL.

We discuss why he started FSL, his focus on clients and their caregivers, one-on-one customized care, the state of affordable housing, the effect of the pandemic on affordable housing, and much more…

[00:00] Affordable housing, particularly for seniors is a challenge.
[01:22] Introduction
[02:14] Why did you start FSL, Foundation for Senior Living? And what problem did you see that you set out to solve?
[03:01] Why do you choose to focus on the clients as well as their caregivers?
[03:47] How are you able to provide one-on-one customized care at scale?
[07:49] Can you tell us a bit about the state of affordable senior housing in Arizona?
[08:46] How is Arizona different from affordable housing on a national level?
[10:21] What more needs to be done to ensure everyone has access to affordable senior housing?
[10:58] What effect is the pandemic having on affordable housing?
[12:10] Are any of these changes, part of a larger trend that’s likely to continue even after the pandemic is gone?
[14:02] Why is it important to you to focus on the poor and the vulnerable people?
[15:08] People often think these problems that we’re facing, systemic and too big for one person to make a difference. What would you say to someone like that to motivate them, to make the changes that are so necessary in our world?
[16:43] On a personal level, what do you think is your biggest strength that enables you to have a unique, impactful effect on older adults?
[17:33] Do you think working closely with older adults changed you in any way?
[19:09] Would you like to share anything about affordable senior housing? Do you have any last thoughts?
[20:24] Parting words of wisdom and wrap-up.

Tom Egan has 20 years of experience in non-profit organizations, including 16 years of nonprofit management experience and he holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy.

You can learn more on his web site at https://www.fsl.org

Transcript:

Tom: 0:00
Affordable housing, particularly for seniors is a challenge that we’ve had for a long time and a growing challenge. I find a lot of times that people place almost a judgment on seniors for getting to retirement and not having enough saved, to take care of their retirement years. We don’t know what that person’s journey was. There are, there are too many low wage jobs in our economy. One health crisis can wipe a family out. I think a lot of times, if one spouse has a health crisis and then the other spouse has to leave the workforce to be a caregiver for the loved one. And then their savings are just drained, taking care of the first one. And the other spouse is left with nothing.

Hanh: 1:19
Good to meet you. How are you?

Tom: 1:20
Nice to meet you as well.

Hanh: 1:22
All right. Well, you know, first, thank you so much for your time to be here. And, uh, I’m, you know, a student of all of my guests and I’m always looking to learn and also share, and hopefully what we’re doing will inspire others as well.

Tom: 1:36
Well, thank you. Thanks for having me.

Hanh: 1:37
Tom Egan is the president and CEO of FSL. He joins me today on the podcast and FSL stands for Foundation for Senior Living. It aims to improve the quality of life, for older adults and their caregivers. Tom oversees daily operations and promotes greater awareness of FSL within the community. With 20 years of experience in the nonprofit organization, 16 years of which, in management. So, I’m eager to learn from this wealth of knowledge that he’s accumulated. So Tom, thank you so much for being with me today and Boomer Living. So now, can you start by telling us why you decided to start FSL, Foundation for Senior Living in the first place? And what problem did you see that you set out to solve?

Tom: 2:26
You know, I think the organization was originally founded to address just concerns that, seniors were having as well as adults with disabilities. So, we spun off from another charity that was more focused on the needs of families and children and realized that their expertise was not in serving older adults. So FSL was started, 45 plus years ago now to really address those concerns. And really what we set out to do was to address the health and social services as well as housing needs of older adults, seniors, and adults with disabilities.

Hanh: 3:00
Okay. Now, why do you choose to focus on the clients as well as their caregivers?

Tom: 3:06
When, the way I look at it, all of our clients, you’re getting the client and the caregiver. The vast majority of care in our country is provided by family caregivers for a variety of reasons. So, for those kids, a lot of times they don’t realize the toll it takes on their own health and wellbeing as their providing that care because they’re just doing so for their loved one. But, if we can give that family caregiver a break, a respite while we provide additional care, or in some cases, just the health and safety issue where the caregivers may be not healthy enough or strong enough to provide that service for the person. It may be safer for a professional to provide that intervention.

Hanh: 3:47
FSL is one of the largest nonprofits in Arizona, but you pride yourself for customized care. How are you able to provide one-on-one customized care at scale?

Tom: 3:58
So one of the things we tried to do was create a program called Care by Design. And what Care by Designed idea was, is, we’re a multi-service non-profit organization. People come in through different doors. But if we can route them all through Care by Design and really take a holistic look at the person and say “What do they need?” Maybe they’re presenting to us with a food need. “Okay. But what else is going on in the family?” So I’ll give you an example, a friend of mine in town was talking. The original thing he called about was his uncle’s rent is about equal to what his income is. So the family is providing all the rest of his care, his socialization, his medical needs, his transportation, food, everything. The presenting need was, he needed a more affordable housing solution. Okay. But the team was able to really look at it and say, “Hey, he probably qualifies for home delivered meals. Oh, he’s a veteran he’s eligible for these other services. And really build out a full plan to address that families need. And my friend said, he didn’t even know what he needed. He just knew. This is not a sustainable solution with how much his rent costs. Okay. Affordable housing, which we were going to talk a bit about today is a huge problem that, that it’s going to take a few years for him to get into affordable housing, but we can address some of the other needs while he’s waiting for that. And it took a lot of the burden off the family and helped his uncle.

Hanh: 5:16
Yeah. Often, it is a journey that, children loved ones. They don’t know what the next steps are, when it comes to housing, caregiving in the later stage of life. And I think it’s so important that, what you and I are doing, having this conversation. And then it’s just putting it out there that these conversations it’s never too early to talk and to plan and also learn your options. And I tell you something about the declining of health in the later years. It is so frowned upon that somehow parents and grandparents, one, they may not want to talk about it, and then two, children perhaps are not resourceful enough or maybe not caring enough to understand and to reach out, to have these conversations. Like you said, sometimes we don’t even know, what we need, help. An older adult who are in their eighties, but what we do know is we need it, but we just don’t need, know the extent of help and what our options are. So I appreciate what you’re doing and educating people and telling them they got options. That’s huge.

Tom: 6:21
Yeah. And I think, yeah, I think that’s a lot of it. And sometimes it’s, the family’s gotta be at the right time, at the right place to need the help. Sometimes people think they can, they start out and they can do this. They can be that kid, that caregiver and it’s wonderful. But if you do that year over year, over year, it does start to to be difficult. I think you’re right. People often get thrown into the role of caregiver without any planning, any knowledge of what to do. And they’re just trying to figure it out on their own. If we can solve that learning curve, if we can connect them to the right services, whether it’s something we do or someone does in the community, that’s really what my staff tried to do.

Hanh: 6:56
Awesome. In my personal journey has shown me that, some point in life you’re going to be a caregiver or a recipient of one. So, the sooner that you accept that, learn about it, and, there’s nothing to be shameful about. Somehow the word caregiving or caregiver implies that someone is declining. And there’s nothing wrong with that, And I think we have to be part of the shift to change that paradigm. That it is something to be proud about, if you’re blessed enough to have someone caring for you. And the word “Care”, doesn’t give away your power. To me actually, there’s different perspective, interpretation of that word care implies that somebody needs help or less empowered. But I think it’s an endearing word. I wholeheartedly believe if you’re breathing at some point in life, you’re going to be a caregiver or a recipient of one. So let’s get educated. Yeah. So now, can you tell us a bit about the state of affordable senior housing in Arizona?

Tom: 7:55
Yeah. So in, in Arizona, we’re currently third worst in the country when it comes to lack of affordable housing, we’re fourth worst in the country when it comes to lack of affordable senior housing. So, the challenge really becomes well, let’s define affordability. First affordability means that the individual or the family’s not spending more than 30% of their income towards rent and utilities. So, as a state, Arizona needs something around 150,000 units of affordable housing, right now. And that was pre COVID. So, with the pandemic, those numbers are, I can only speculate at how high they’re going to be. But, as a state the affordable housing developers like Foundation for Senior Living, are collectively, we’re all going to develop around 2000 units of affordable housing. So, that’s a pretty big Delta between needing 150,000. That would take us a long time to ever be able to meet that demand.

Hanh: 8:46
Now, how is this different from affordable housing on a national level?

Tom: 8:51
Yeah, so nationally the numbers get quite staggering. So, the housing supply is significantly out of balance. Nationally, we need somewhere between seven and 12 million units of affordable housing, right now. No, that’s for everyone. That’s everyone in the country. That’s for everyone in the country, 7 to 12 million. So, the current national capacity to build affordable housing around the country. That’s family, as well as senior is about 125,000 units of affordable housing. So again, you’ve got a huge gap and at that rate of production, we’re just simply, we’re never going to catch up. And, part of the problem has really been, if you look at over the last say, eight years, the price of housing has gone up 60% and income has only gone up around 20%, that same time. So that delta just keeps getting larger. And that puts a lot of stress on individuals and families. I know for us, back about, say 10 years ago, with all the properties we have, there would be 10, 20, 30 people on a wait list, hoping to get into an affordable unit. And I’m talking about senior housing, now. Now, we measure those waiting lists and magnitudes of a hundred. There’s a hundred, there’s 200, there’s 300 people on the wait list, and the number would be higher. But at some point you have to cap it because the individuals just certainly aren’t going to get in. So, that’s a lot of stress on the system.

Hanh: 10:20
MmmHmm MmmHmm. Now, what more needs to be done to ensure everyone has access to affordable senior housing?

Tom: 10:27
We, the easy answer is we need to build more units. I’m encouraged by some legislation that didn’t quite make it last year called the Moving Forward Act. And I am encouraged that the Congress will take it up this year. And we’re hopeful that will pass. If that, Moving Forward Act passes our production rate again, nationally, will go from around 125,000 units to 800,000 units annually. That’s a dramatic ramp up to provide more affordable housing for people in our country.

Hanh: 10:58
Now, what effect is the pandemic having on affordable housing?

Tom: 11:02
There’s so many troubling dynamics that really have come up with the pandemic. I, the affordable housing crisis didn’t start, it started before that. But I think, the coronavirus pandemic just makes it worse. And really it’s those economic impacts. We’ve got a large number of people who’ve been displaced from jobs, particularly lower income workers. So now, you’ve got. The estimates, I was reading an article recently talked about 20 million renters nationwide that are potentially facing eviction. Now we currently have a moratorium on evictions in place through the end of March. If that doesn’t get extended, you’re looking at additionally 20 million homes. Potentially facing a foreclosure and eviction. That’s just going to put more pressure on the system. I know in the County that I live in, we’ve seen more first-time homeless seniors over the age of 65 that had never previously been homeless before. So these are not people who are used to accessing the social safety net programs in our city. And that’s happening nationwide. People are just continuing to be displaced.

Hanh: 12:10
Are any of these changes, part of a larger trend that’s likely to continue even after the pandemic is gone?

Tom: 12:16
Hard to say. I worry about the evictions. I mean that, that’s a disturbing trend. Uh, the pressure on the existing affordable housing and services is going to be an issue. And then as you, and I both know, just with the demographic changes, there’s going to be even more of a need for senior housing, just because of the aging demographic. We have more seniors now who get into retirement and their only source of income is social security, So you could think even in the senior living community space, you start looking at more Medicaid beds than you do, somebody who can afford the services they need. And that’s just simply not enough of them.

Hanh: 12:52
Ten thousand a day, turning 65 plus for several decades to come. So, I mean, there’s definitely need to have a affordable housing exponentially grow to keep up with that.

Tom: 13:04
Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah, you take the recession back in 2008, plus the current economic crisis. Anyone who was, they were already living paycheck to paycheck, has not been able to save for retirement, or these crises just keep coming up that set them back, even if they can get ahead.

Hanh: 13:20
I’m glad that you’re here and you and I had this conversation just to put it out in the forefront to underscore the need for affordable.

Tom: 13:28
I think it’s important. I am hopeful that legislation will pass and we’ll put some real effort into building more units. Because I think as we know, people want to age in place, they want to stay in their own home as long as possible. We need to be able to. It’s more cost-effective to try to get some services into their home. Try to help them age gracefully. Age with dignity, in their own home. And, but you have to have that continuum of services to meet people where they’re at.

Hanh: 13:52
Yeah, I agree. I agree. Now you state that in your personal mission has always been to work with the poor and vulnerable in the community. Now, why is it important to you to focus on the poor and the vulnerable people?

Tom: 14:06
I think for me it was, I’m Catholic. I grew up Catholic grew up with a Saint, a single mother. So I think at an early age, I had to become a print defied child and had to help and translate and do a lot of things as a teenager. And that just I don’t know, there was just something about helping people. When I went to college, it was like, I want to help people. I want to do this, it feels good to help people. So I set out on this path to, to work in the nonprofit industry and it hasn’t been a straight line. It’s been a a wine new one, but there was just something about being able to help people and tying that to my faith that really led me to, to just find that this is a good personal fit for my mission. I, I like, as you said, I’ve over 20 years of non-profit experience. I could do other things but people in particularly just having a heart for the poor and vulnerable has been always a personal mission of mine.

Hanh: 15:00
Well, we’re very blessed to have you part of this industry and just thank you so much for what you do.

Tom: 15:05
Oh, thanks so much for having me. It’s a good conversation.

Hanh: 15:08
Yeah. People often think these problems that we’re facing, systemic and too big for one person to make a difference. What would you say to someone like that to motivate them, to make the changes that are so necessary in our world?

Tom: 15:23
The way I’ve always looked at it. Is it trying to do everything yourself when you’re facing really large systemic changes is near impossible. You’re pushing a rock up the hill, but really to build, these collaborations and get people together and start to talk about how we can solve problems together is just much more effective. It’s always been the way I’ve tried to work at things. Trying to, when you’re trying to tackle these big systemic problems aging services, healthcare, affordable housing, whatever it may be. Trying to bring smart people to the table, to start to talk about solutions and who ha, who does what the best really I find is just there’s extra challenges in it, but there’s also a lot of learning you can do. I think for me, I’ve always been a lifelong learner. I have no delusions that I know everything. So I try to surround myself with smart people and come up with better solutions.

Hanh: 16:14
One thing I noticed in the midst of the pandemic, a lot of the silos have been removed. At least I see there’s more collaboration like what we’re doing, because I’m learning more about your work. So it’s good, that those lines are blurred. Like people are stepping in and collaborative to collaboratively, learn from one another and come up with solutions and not just keep identifying problems and with no action. So I think it’s great, and thank you for that. On a personal level, what do you think is your biggest strength that enables you to have a unique, impactful effect on older adults?

Tom: 16:50
Oh, my gosh. What is unique about me that allows me to have that impact? Growing up with a a single mom, we spent a lot of time at my grandmother’s. There was a time and my mother likes to remind me of this, where I thought my grandmother was my mom, just because we were there a lot. I think that just having a heart for that and feeling like I can, I can make Gramm proud as well as my mom proud of the work that I’m doing.

Hanh: 17:13
Yeah, that’s wonderful. I think a lot of folks that I’ve met you and I, what we’re talking, many of us have that reflection of a relationship that we’ve had either with her mom or grandmother that set the stage and position us where we are right now. Yeah, I think so. Now, do you think working closely with older adults changed you in any way?

Tom: 17:38
Yes, I absolutely think it has changed me. My, my wife makes fun of me. So when we were buying our most recent home we, I really wanted a one story house and I was thinking future I’m thinking agent place. If this is going to be our last house, let’s get a one-story. I look at the physical environment as trip and fall hazards and risk, and we wound up buying a two-story house. And I’m like, okay, if we do this is not our last house. We’re going to have to move again. And she’s “What do you mean?” I’m like, we’re not gonna want to deal with all those stairs when we’re older. It just, it, it changes the way I look at things. Even just on a, on the physical space, I look at architecture and design and be like, ah, those are too narrow hallways that doorway’s too narrow that somebody’s not going to be able to really age in this home gracefully.

Hanh: 18:24
Yeah. So you’re, you’re thinking of what’s on the horizon. And you want to prepare that now, so you don’t have to make another move. Because I know for us we lived with my mom and dad, 40 plus years in their colonial. My dad pass away already, but we knew that when my mom’s health was declining with dementia, that was the time. I think it’s very true that folks in the industry, we live and breathe the aging journey. Not that we’re expert, I’m not an expert, but at least it’s in our radar that we live and breathe and we know what’s ahead. So we’d like to be prepared. Now, would, would you like to share anything about the affordable senior housing? Do you have any last thoughts?

Tom: 19:16
I truly hope that your listeners will be a little more aware that, that affordable housing, particularly for seniors is a challenge that we’ve had for a long time and a growing challenge. I find a lot of times that people place almost a judgment on seniors for getting to retirement and not having enough saved, to take care of their retirement years. We don’t know what that person’s journey was. There are, there are too many low wage jobs in our economy. One health crisis can wipe a family out. I think a lot of times, if one spouse has a health crisis and then the other spouse has to leave the workforce to be a caregiver for the loved one. And then their savings are just drained, taking care of the first one. And the other spouse is left with nothing. And now they’re heading into, usually women, more than men. When I look at our properties, I see it’s a lot of single women because their husbands have passed on. And they’re just not left with much and it’s really challenging. But I find sometimes in our community that there’s almost this “Well you should’ve planned better for retirement.” Like, you don’t know what that person’s journey was. You don’t know what happened to them.

Hanh: 20:22
Yeah. No. I agree with you. I agree. As far as, everybody has a story or journey and and you don’t know their tragedies. You don’t know their misfortunes that perhaps have happened. And you don’t know what job situation or insurance situation or health-related issues they’ve had. So, I think it’s just a stereotype. You don’t want to go there. It’s not fair.

Tom: 20:45
In particular with our last couple of economic recessions. I think really, I think there’s some people who got pushed into retirement earlier than they had planned. They had a plan, but the world around them changed.

Hanh: 20:56
And honestly, everything that you described that happened to the F, to let’s say your residence could happen to you and I, and it already did. Except, we may have whether it’s reserves or better save for the future, but these misfortunes can happen to anybody. So, I would consider folks you and I, to be very blessed, so that we can continue to pivot and move forward and have maybe more years to plan for retirement. I appreciate this time to get to know you and learn about your work, your mission and your heart to serve. I appreciate it so much. Do you have it? Yeah. Yeah, no I enjoyed this. I think when it comes to affordable housing for seniors, I think it’s definitely gotta be more in the forefront. And also, aging at home or giving folks optionality, right? Whether they choose to be at home, whether they choose to be, or their budget allows them to be in a affordable housing, or if their budget allows them to be a resort style housing, but whatever that Offering them optionalities and allowing them to age, dig dignity and live vibrantly and allow them an environment that they can find their purpose or continue with their purpose. Do you know?

Tom: 22:04
Absolutely. No, I agree with you. I agree with you.

Hanh: 22:07
Before COVID that has to shift because we all have to leverage technology in whatever form or capacity to stay engaged. And then also to keep up with what’s going on, not just engage with your community staff and your residents, but keep up with what’s going on in the other communities. And I feel like I’m a student of all of my guests. And I feel like I’m a little bit smarter every time I talked to someone. And I think it’s really important because that puts the information out there. Hopefully it’ll inform, educate and inspire people. Because somebody’s listening to you right now. They might say, “Hey, you know what? Maybe we ought to have an internal podcast to bring our staff, whether it’s 1000 or 10,000 staff up to date with what’s going on.” So that’s a good idea.

Tom: 22:55
Yeah. I had a mentor. Well I still have a mentor. My mentor years ago had said “You never know who.” This was more about public speaking, so like “You never know who’s going to be in that audience.”, because she was telling me about going to a, a charitable event. And this organization was, really proud. They were going to give her this donation and, she gets all dressed up, goes to the event and they bring her up on stage and they give her an oversized check for $500. Just like “Really? Making the paper check costs $50.” And she was disappointed as she drove home. And then she got a phone call the next day. And there was somebody in the audience it’s “I really was moved by your mission and wanting to becoming very involved in her organization.” I was like, so you never know, even sometimes if you think how many, you know, did I get through to anyone? You never know who that person’s going to be. And trying to inspire somebody you’re right. It could just be one person listening who then says, “You know what, I’m going to, I’m going to get into this industry. I’m going to find a better way to do it.” You and I can’t do this forever, nor do we want to do this forever. There will be leaders that come after us with newer and better ideas and we’ll change the world.

Hanh: 24:01
Absolutely. That’s another reason too, is that there’s a shortage, shortage of Geron-tologist’s, CNA’s, you name it. So, get them in when they’re in college.

Tom: 24:11
Yeah. Yeah. Nursing’s a huge challenge for us.

Hanh: 24:14
So, that’s another reason too. And I hope that who is listening will be inspired and will follow and pursue this career or this journey and will become future leaders. So, that’s great.

Tom: 24:26
It’s very rewarding.

Hanh: 24:27
Yeah. Well, I thank you.

Tom: 24:29
Sounds great. Thanks so much.

Hanh: 24:31
Take care. Bye-bye.

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