Thursday, September 22, 2011

“Golden Years” Should Not Refer to the Cost

by Keith Wardrip, Center for Housing Policy

In the last week, I have had the opportunity to attend two very different forums dealing with housing for older adults. The first was a small gathering of housing researchers, advocates, and developers asked to identify the most pressing research questions in the field, and the second was a regional conference hosted by a large Area Agency on Aging. The forums and their attendees were very different, but together, they provided a great overview of the current housing issues facing older adults.

Reflecting on these events, it seems to me that as a society, our objectives are four-fold:
  1. to increase the stock of supportive housing affordable to low- and moderate-income older adults;
  2. to modify inaccessible homes that no longer meet residents’ needs but are otherwise affordable and appropriate;
  3. to provide services in existing communities where it is cost-effective; and
  4. to ensure that where services are not provided on-site, older adults have the means to travel to them.
Expanding public transportation is a necessary component of achieving the last objective, but it is not sufficient in and of itself because public transit usage is low even among older adults with access to it. Thus, attention must be given to ensuring that transportation options are appropriate, safe, provide access to important destinations, and are promoted throughout the community.

The greatest challenge to achieving these four objectives is filling the gap between the market-rate cost of supportive housing and the all-too-often minimal resources of those who need it. Roughly 9 percent of adults over the age of 65 live in poverty, and more than one-third earn less than twice the poverty level. Setting aside for a moment the $39,000 price tag for a year in an assisted living facility, even the $18 to $19 hourly rate for receiving services in the home is out of reach for many. Thus, it should come as no surprise that when health care and long-term care costs are considered, fully 65 percent of older adults are at risk of not being able to maintain their standard of living after retiring.

Many of America’s older adults do not have the financial resources to afford the appropriate mix of housing and services that they need to age independently in their golden years. Instead, they must choose either a Medicaid-funded stay in a nursing home or going without the services they need in a home that can no longer accommodate them. They deserve better options.

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