In light of recent efforts to reframe the discussion about housing for older adults, a recent Public Policy and Aging Report article described four strategies with potential for improving future housing for this population.
The first strategy described is providing greater support for aging in place and home modifications. The majority of older adults’ homes lack supportive features and/or contain hazards for this population. Appropriate modifications can be made by certified or trained vendors, but cost remains a problem since funding often falls between the cracks of housing, social services, and medical care. This article notes that this situation can be overcome through programs such as Johns Hopkins’ CAPABLE program that employs teams of handymen, nurses, and occupational therapists, or by passing policy initiatives to support home modification such as those found in Germany or Japan. In the United States, the Bipartisan Policy Center has proposed the passage of a Modification Assistance Initiative to help the current situation.
The second strategy focuses on preserving and enhancing affordable housing. Currently, on-site service coordinators have been added to about 40% of HUD properties. Based on data suggesting that this leads to 18% reductions in hospital admissions, this article recommends adding such coordinators to properties that lack them. The authors also recommend upgrades to the physical environment, from creating better common spaces to more apartment modifications.
The third strategy consists of building better housing in the first place. Here, a focus on “visitability” or universal design for all ages is suggested, which would include a zero-step entrance, entry-level bathrooms, and wider doorways. Such ordinances can either be required or encouraged through incentives or tax breaks.
Lastly, the article suggests allowing for a broader range of housing types to make communities more inclusive and age friendly. Changes to zoning laws may be necessary to allow a range of housing types that could include congregate housing and assisted living. The article suggests that having options such as co-housing, intergenerational housing, and accessory dwelling units would “better meet the diverse needs and lifestyles of older persons.” It is suggested that such zoning changes be a part of a community’s age-friendly initiatives and certification.