February 4, 2016

A Big Housing Problem Requires Clever, Collaborative Solutions

Photo: Couple sit together on a swing.

To address complex, societal problems, organizations must recognize the expertise of others and collaborate together on shared goals and strategies. That’s why AARP Foundation and HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research have signed a Memorandum of Understanding promoting coordinated research and initiatives to address the problem of inadequate, unaffordable housing for low-income older adults.

Housing is the linchpin of well-being, yet for too many older adults that linchpin is threatening to come loose. Our population is aging rapidly and our nation’s housing supply is not prepared for this change. By 2030, the 50+ population will have increased by 20 percent, and one in five people will be 65 or older. A huge majority of those people want to age in place, growing older in the familiar surroundings of home.

Accessible and affordable housing is closely tied to many factors affecting older Americans’ most basic needs, including health outcomes, social isolation, and hunger and poverty. Supporting strategies to age in place can reduce the strain on the healthcare system and other social services that increase in demand with age.

Unfortunately, the existing housing stock isn’t adequate to meet the needs of those with mobility issues and other disabilities. According to one study, only 10 percent of the existing stock of HUD-assisted housing has features older adults may need, such as one-step entry, wider hallways and more accessible household fixtures.

Communities are also inadequately prepared to meet the needs of a less independently mobile population. Transportation infrastructure improvements and healthcare accommodations are desperately needed. Add to all this the fact that low-income older adults are seeing more and more of their income eaten up by housing costs, and the scope and complexity of the future housing challenges our society faces become clear.

HUD and AARP Foundation share similar goals to create and preserve housing that is affordable and accessible, and we each bring our own organizational strengths and expertise to the task of achieving those goals.

A team of HUD and AARP Foundation staff from various offices helped craft the Memorandum of Understanding with an eye toward maximizing the benefits of shared learning and shared resources on aging-in-place strategies. Working together, we intend to support research, technical assistance, and knowledge exchange in order to inform the creation of initiatives and policies to better support the needs of vulnerable older adults.

A challenge like this requires cross-sector, cross-policy, coordinated effort among an array of stakeholders. This Memorandum of Understanding will make the future brighter for older adult households and is a vitally important step toward strengthening that linchpin of well-being called home.

Dr. Katherine O’Regan, Assistant Secretary of PD&R, wrote: “Housing plays a critical role in our lives as we age. The demographic sea change our country is experiencing presents a housing challenge – and an opportunity, for our nation. We are living longer, and more of our years are spent as seniors. Affordable, accessible housing that permits us to age in the communities and settings that we choose is at the heart of those added years being quality years. We are grateful for partners like AARP who help us have the conversations and reach we need today to avoid a crisis in the future.”

AARP Foundation is collaborating with HUD to expand research efforts on maintaining safe, healthy, and affordable housing for vulnerable older adults. By leveraging the resources and networks of both organizations, HUD and AARP Foundation intend to maximize their investments and increase the impact of their work.

AARP Foundation and HUD are excited to extend this collaboration into 2016 to create scalable and innovative solutions for low-income older adults. Through this joint effort, both organizations are taking a major step toward securing a promising future on all fronts for seniors in need.

Salin Geevarghese is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for HUD’s International and Philanthropic Innovation office and Lisa Marsh Ryerson is President, AARP Foundation.

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