Housing report

Key Choices, Flexibility to Improve Access to Affordable Housing for Seniors: Report

Member of the US Senate Special Committee on Aging, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC). (Credit: Pool/Getty Images)

Policies at all levels of government that focus on choice, flexibility and cost-effectiveness are needed to improve access to affordable housing for older people, according to a new report.

“A dwelling for the golden years” Tim Scott (R-SC), a member of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, examines how the public and private sectors can address housing challenges for older adults through programmatic and policy change.

Population growth

According to the report, the growing demographics of elderly householders are driving change and opportunity for the private sector, as well as state, local and federal solutions to help older Americans access affordable housing and accessible.

By 2050, the number of adults age 65 or older in the United States is expected to double. From 2016 to 2019, the number of older renters accounted for 30% of all renter households, or more than 13.2 million, and the number of older homeowners increased by more than 2.5 million.

Having somewhere to come, Scott says, is part of the American dream.

“Older people and people with disabilities now make up more than half of public housing residents, but accessible housing remains far too limited, he said. “As our senior population grows, we need to increase safe and affordable housing options for those in their prime.”

But there are gaps in senior housing affordability, accessibility and home technology, he said.

Nearly one-third of senior households spend more than 30% of their income on housing. Only 10% of the country’s 115 million housing units are accessible to seniors. On the technology side, only 38% of seniors have access to reliable internet or devices.

Older people and people with disabilities make up 53% of social housing residents, but less than 20% of all subsidized tenants live in accessible housing, and only 35% live in potentially modifiable housing. According to the report, between $35 billion and $70 billion is needed to address the backlog of public housing capital repairs.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also brought to light some housing needs, including social isolation and loneliness.

Section 202 affordable housing

At the federal level, programs and policies to address the housing needs of seniors include the Department of Housing and Urban Development‘s Section 202 Supportive Housing for Seniors, Medicaid Housing Modifications, Connectivity to broadband and the return on taxpayers’ investment in housing assistance, among others.

Nearly 350,000 Section 202 housing units exist across the country. The program provides interest-free capital advances to non-profit developers for the construction of supportive housing. Rental assistance is provided to bridge the gap between what residents are able to afford and HUD-approved operating costs.

Since 2011, Congress has funded Section 202 rental grants and support services for existing units. To help develop more rental housing, Congress passed laws allowing the private sector to work to improve the equality and quantity of affordable housing for seniors.

State and local efforts

The report notes that the private sector is innovating to bring new and adapted senior housing to market, as well as helping seniors retrofit their homes to age in place.

State and local authorities are reducing housing costs and developing programs to help people age in their own communities through regulatory reform.

“The private sector has pioneered essential community building and planning techniques that meet the unique needs of older Americans,” including modifiable homes, community building, and the use of salvaged buildings, according to the report. “Similarly, many state and local governments are spearheading regulatory reform and new programs to help expand housing options and affordability for older Americans.”

These state and local efforts, the report says, help older Americans with better accessibility, health care, broadband connectivity, transportation, and community living.

Political reform

The report also calls for reforming federal programs, tax expenditures and other tools supporting assisted housing and home ownership. Such reforms, according to the paper, would increase taxpayers’ return on investment and allow more seniors to access affordable housing.

“Policies at all levels of government that focus on choice, flexibility, and cost-effectiveness will improve housing access for older Americans and ensure that older adults can age comfortably in place,” the report said.