Housing as We Age: Are You Ready?

Do you know where you will live when you are 80 years old? Will your home accommodate your health and physical needs? How will you manage if you cannot drive? Will you be able to sell your house and move into affordable, accessible housing with accessible public transportation? 

Federal officials from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) foresee a housing crisis by the year 2040, when baby boomers will have aged into their 80’s, many becoming frail and mobility impaired. HUD’s Jennifer Ho, a Special Assistant to the Secretary, reported at a recent conference that a Harvard study recommended that HUD support 900,000 additional affordable, accessible housing units, which the study noted would help about one-in-three needy older Americans. However, HUD’s budget can only support a small fraction of the recommended units, and continuing federal funding shortfalls will likely result in HUD being able to serve only one in five, or one in six needy older Americans. 

For those of us who think we can stay in our current homes, Ms. Ho said that, only half of one percent of all housing in the U.S. is accessible, and only 40 percent is modifiable. In other words, almost two-thirds of current housing in the U.S. could not be made accessible. And if you are planning on downsizing – timing may be critical. Housing trends tracked by HUD show that younger individuals and families want smaller homes in the city rather than the suburbs and/or cannot afford to buy anything due to lower incomes and tight credit requirements, among other issues. The competition for close-in, smaller housing has driven up the costs of rentals, well beyond the affordability of older adults dependent on Social Security.

So what are the answers? There is an increasing understanding of the role of housing as a key social determinant of an individual’s health status. HUD and the Department of Health and Human Services have been collaborating on demonstration projects to promote health care and long term services and supports that will encourage wellness, and enable individuals to receive care in their own homes. New Editions Consulting, Inc. contributes to these efforts through expert technical assistance and meeting planning that provide platforms for the agencies to interact at the national, state and local levels.

Also, advocates for older Americans, like the AARP, are promoting aging in place, providing resources for families, as well as research and data to support policy changes. You can now buy products for home modifications like grab bars and bath and shower seats from home improvement stores, Amazon.com, and other general retailers. New Editions also manages AbleData—a federal clearinghouse for assistive technology and resources that make everyday life better. Visit AbleData at http://abledata.com/ to explore the range of available products before you buy.

Or, you can plan ahead, as my family did, when we built an addition to our house a few years ago. We designed the outside stairs to have a lower rise, made the inside doorways wider to accommodate a wheelchair or walker, and installed grab bars in the bathroom.  


Jennifer Ho, Senior Advisor, Office of the Secretary, HUD, presenting to the CMS-HHS-HUD Fifth Annual Federal Headquarters-Central Office Session: Promoting Partnerships for Community Living, August 12, 2015. Conference supported by the MFP Technical Assistance Center managed by New Editions Consulting, Inc.

Highlights of Housing America’s Older Adults: Meeting the Needs of an Aging Population, Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, noted on AARP’s website: http://www.aarp.org/aarp-foundation/our-work/housing/info-2014/5-facts-from-housing-report.html

Housing America’s Older Adults: Meeting the Needs of an Aging Population, Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, PDF: http://www.jchs.harvard.edu/sites/jchs.harvard.edu/files/jchs-housing_americas_older_adults_2014.pdf

Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Consumer Access and Self Determination, supports policies and programs for home and community based services: http://www.acl.gov/Programs/CIP/OCASD/index.aspx

AARP Foundation's Housing Solutions Center website: http://www.aarp.org/aarp-foundation/our-work/housing/

AbleData, a database for unbiased, comprehensive information on products, solutions and resources to improve productivity and ease life’s tasks; maintained for the Department of Health & Human Services' (HHS) National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR) by New Editions Consulting, Inc.

Stephanie Mensh is a Senior Analyst who has expertise in Medicaid, Medicare and health insurance reimbursement policies; supportive services for independent living; and housing programs for people with disabilities and chronic conditions.

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