As the population of seniors continues to rise, solving barriers to aging in place has become more important in our communities. In order for ‘aging in place’— in their own homes and in their own communities —to be a safe and viable option, suitable housing that is safe for seniors is important. Many older adults face challenges in the search for affordable housing that is safe, accessible, and able to meet their needs as they age and change. Policymakers, advocates, and those interested in community development must question how we can meet these needs, quickly and properly.
More than one in six Americans are now 65 years or older, according to a report from the Administration on Aging. That creates a senior population of 55.7 million people, an increase of 38% from 2010. The report estimates that by 2040, there will be 80.8 million senior citizens. This population also has unique housing preferences as a survey by AARP found that about 75% of people older than 50 want to stay in their homes or communities for as long as possible. However, as seniors start to age in place, they will encounter housing-related challenges that can make this difficult:
- Accessibility and safety. Mobility issues are the leading disability among senior citizens, which can make it difficult for them to navigate their homes and live alone. Research has found fewer than four percent of housing could be considered livable by people with moderate mobility difficulties, and only a minuscule fraction is wheelchair accessible. Senior citizens make require extensive modifications to a home in order to make it safe and accessible for daily living.
- Lack of housing options. If a senior citizen wishes to remain in their community but find other housing that can be more accessible or social, the search for such housing can be long or frustrating. In a survey conducted by the CDC National Survey of Residential Care Facilities, 29% of senior housing communities currently have a waiting list for admissions. Neighborhoods can also lack such communities within their boundaries if they restrict housing options through limitations such as single-family zoning. Close to 50% of senior citizens surveyed by AARP said they would be open to alternative housing options that would allow them to safely age independently, such as accessory dwelling units (ADUs). Unfortunately, this type of housing is less common because of zoning practices and laws across the country.
- Affordability. Many senior citizens live and survive on fixed incomes, which can make it tough to afford housing. Some have to make difficult decisions between paying for housing and essential expenses. More than 10 million households led by someone 65 and older are cost-burdened. Senior households of color are more likely to be affected by affordability challenges because of historical disparities in access to employment and housing. This has led to significant gaps in homeownership rates between older white and Black or Latinx households, thus forcing these households into greater financial insecurity as they age in place.
Housing searches for suitable, affordable, and safe housing can be a large challenge for senior citizens, but when focusing on the proper solutions for this housing crisis, communities and neighborhoods can create wonderful sources of housing. Examples include:
- Investing in home modifications. Programs that promote accessibility and safety can also provide financial assistance or tax incentives to those who need in-home modifications. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) awarded $15 million in grants to low-cost, low-barrier, high-impact home modifications. HUD’s Older Adults Home Modification Program will distribute to nonprofits, which will serve more than 1,900 families. Though some states and cities have funds to support home modifications, additional funding is necessary.
- Expanding affordability. Community Building Partners is a local expert in expanding the stock of affordable housing for communities in need. The availability of programs such as the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program, state or federal historic tax credits, and other financing programs make projects affordable to developers and in the end, affordable to those living there. An increase in programs such as these will make developing affordable housing much easier to take on.
- Alternative housing options. To increase housing options, policymakers could encourage zoning changes that allow for the construction of ADUs. Several municipalities and the District of Columbia, along with 10 states, have either revised or implemented laws that promote the construction of ADUs by eliminating obstacles such as zoning restrictions and complex approval processes. These types of units allow for aging independently, but also close by family or others who can assist in times of need.
Community Building Partners has been exploring these avenues of support and will continue to expand on our efforts to provide affordable housing for seniors (and all) across Ohio.