affordable housing: overview » state and local activities
What state and local actions can encourage a range of affordable housing options for older adults?

Providing a range of housing types - Compared with large-lot, single-family neighborhoods, higher-density residential developments can include more overall housing and expand the variety of types, sizes, and costs available. High-density neighborhoods can often attract services and amenities that make them more walkable and more likely to support public transit. When communities up-zone an area to increase density, there may also be opportunities to lock-in affordability for a portion of the units. Despite these benefits, restrictive zoning laws and other land-use policies can make their development difficult in some locales. There are a variety of strategies to ensure that the abilities, preferences, and incomes of older adults are accommodated by the local housing stock.

Cities can begin by revisiting their zoning policies to encourage a mix of housing types and affordability levels. For example, communities can rezone areas to accommodate more compact residential development for both owners and renters near transit stops and in mixed-use, walkable communities.

In addition to zoning certain areas for high-density residential development, cities can also promote the use of less traditional housing types. One example is the accessory dwelling unit (ADU), a self-contained residential rental unit built on the property of a single-family home. ADUs, or "granny flats," are inherently smaller and more affordable than stand-alone units, and since they are built on existing properties rather on the fringe of the community, they are more commonly located near city amenities and bus routes. Click here to learn more about ADUs.

Click here to read more about state and local strategies to improve housing affordability.

Reducing costs for market-rate owners and renters - Many states and localities seek to reduce housing costs for older adults by providing tax relief to current residents. One example is a homestead exemption, used in many states to reduce the portion of a property's assessed value that is subject to taxation. [1]
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  • This section is based on an AARP fact sheet on Aging in Place prepared by the Center for Housing Policy. Click here to download the fact sheet in PDF form.

Even though most property tax relief programs are targeted to homeowners, sixteen states use "circuit breakers" to reduce the property tax burden to both homeowners and renters. Although renters do not pay property taxes directly, renter circuit breakers offer a tax credit to income- or age-eligible households based on the assumption that property tax is implicitly part of their monthly rent payment. Credits range anywhere from six to 25 percent of the total rent paid. [2] It is worth noting, however, that benefits that rely on city or state funding for support can be reduced or discontinued in times of budgetary strain.

Building and preserving the subsidized housing stock - Subsidized housing is one way in which communities meet the housing needs of older adults with limited incomes. However, the contracts for approximately 900,000 units with project-based rental assistance, representing 70 percent of the stock, expire in the next five years. For each, the property owner could decide not to renew the contract, thus removing the property's rent restrictions and reducing the number
Solutions in Action
The circuit breaker program available in Illinois typically provides grants of up to $700 annually to help relieve property taxes for owners and renters 65 and older. However, because of the state's fiscal situation, grants have been reduced by 50 percent for fiscal year 2010.

Click here to leave this site and learn more about the circuit breaker program in Illinois.
of affordable units that older adults can call home. Strategies to preserve the
assisted stock are therefore important in many communities.

States and cities have a host of programmatic tools at their disposal to preserve and expand the supply of affordable housing for older adults. To forestall the loss of affordable rental properties, state and local governments can develop acquisition funds that give developers access to the capital they need to quickly acquire properties in danger of opting out of subsidized housing programs. [3] Where the affordable stock is in short supply, states and cities can consider developing programs (e.g., housing trust funds) that offer rental assistance or produce affordable units specifically for older adults with low incomes.

To complement state and local efforts, the federal government can increase support for federal housing programs in general and programs serving older adults in particular. In addition to funding the construction of new Section 202 properties, the federal government can target funding to existing properties for modifications needed to accommodate their aging low-income populations. [4] Click here to learn more about rental housing preservation.

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[1] State Programs and Practices for Reducing Residential Property Taxes. 2003. By David Baer. Washington, DC: AARP Public Policy Institute.
[2] The Property Tax Circuit Breaker: An Introduction and Survey of Current Programs. 2007. By Karen Lyons, Sarah Farkas, and Nicholas Johnson. Washington, DC: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
[3] Preserving Affordability and Access in Livable Communities: Subsidized Housing Opportunities near Transit and the 50+ Population. 2009. By Rodney Harrell, Allison Brooks, and Todd Nedwick. Washington, DC: AARP.
[4] The Policy Book: AARP Public Policies 2009 - 2010. Chapter 9: Livable Communities. Washington, DC: AARP Public Policy Institute.

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