affordable housing: overview

What does it mean to provide a range of affordable housing options for older adults?

Nearly 70 percent of households with a 65+ householder live in a single-family detached housing unit. [1] For some older adults, a large single-family home comes at both the right price and the right size for aging in place. But for others, particularly those with physical limitations, the upkeep and maintenance associated with such a home may be untenable. For those living on a fixed budget or with other financial limitations, the costs of maintenance as well as mortgage payments, utility costs, and property taxes may become burdensome.

In many communities, the existing housing stock does not offer a range of choices for older adults wishing to remain in their community but live in smaller, more affordable homes. Because maintenance and upkeep associated with a large single-family home can be unappealing or unrealistic for some older adults, communities should strive to offer a variety of housing options including smaller owner-occupied homes (e.g., condominiums or townhomes) and apartments. For older adults whose only barrier to aging in place is affordability, communities can develop programs to lower housing costs for those with fixed or limited incomes.

Why is it important for a community to provide affordable housing options?

Many older adults rely on incomes that cannot sustainably cover market-rate housing costs. Of the more than 23 million households headed by a 65+ adult, more than 7.1 million earn less than $20,000 annually. [2] In many areas, a household in this income bracket would have difficulty finding suitable, safe, market-rate housing it could afford and still have enough left over for other essentials like food and healthcare.

One by-product of a housing stock that does not accommodate a variety of income levels is a population burdened by their housing costs. More than 8.5 million households headed by a 65+ adult spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs, representing 38 percent of all such households. This figure includes some 4.6 million households who spend more than half of their income on housing (21 percent of total).

Without assistance, some older adults cannot afford either owner- or renter-occupied housing at today's costs. As a result, roughly 300,000 federally assisted housing units are reserved specifically for older adults through the federal Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly program, and many older adults benefit from public housing, vouchers, and privately-owned subsidized properties. [3]

However, many public housing agencies and affordable senior developments have long waiting lists for a limited number of spots. Although assisted housing plays a crucial role in the lives of many of the nation's older adults, the millions of households that are burdened by their housing costs suggest that the supply falls far short of demand.

Why is it important for a community to provide a variety of housing types?

Zoning ordinances that only allow for development of single-family homes on large lots can restrict the availability of smaller homes and rental units that tend to be more affordable. Sprawling neighborhoods, where housing may be located far from services and amenities, are another by-product of zoning only for large,
single-family homes. Large-lot residential areas rarely have the population density to support nearby commercial or retail destinations or public transit, so residents must drive to visit family and friends or run errands. This can be problematic for the one in five adults 65 and older who does not drive. [4]
Solutions in Action
The City of Santa Cruz, CA, operates an Accessory Dwelling Unit Development Program to promote the construction of rental units on existing single-family lots. The city has embraced this strategy because it has the potential to expand the supply of rental housing, preserve undeveloped land, and promote transit-accessible infill development.

Click here to leave this site and learn more about the City of Santa Cruz's ADU program.

Land-use plans that include higher-density residential areas with a variety of smaller, more affordable housing types also create more walkable communities that can be enjoyed by drivers and non-drivers alike. An accessory dwelling unit (ADU) is a small unit built on the same lot as an existing single-family home and is one housing type that communities can pursue as a strategy to both create additional affordable housing and increase density in single-family neighborhoods. Higher-density neighborhoods are frequently better-positioned to support public transit, providing another option for older adults to travel independently. Click here to read more about accessory dwelling units.

Learn more about state and local activities that can ensure a range of affordable housing options for older adults

Fall Creek PlaceGo back to learn about other tools that help to provide accessible, safe, and affordable homes

[1] 2007 American Housing Survey, Table 7-1. U.S. Census Bureau.
[2] 2007 American Community Survey, Table B19037. U.S. Census Bureau.
[3] "Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly." 2009. By Nancy
Libson. In 2009 Advocates' Guide to Housing and Community Development Policy [PDF] Washington, DC: National Low Income Housing Coalition.
[4] A Blueprint for Action: Developing a Livable Community for All Ages. 2007. Washington, DC: Aging in Place Initiative.

The views expressed herein are for information, debate and discussion, and do not necessarily represent official policies of AARP.