Affordable Housing Demand to Rise as Population Ages
A study of the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, released in January 2008 by the Urban Institute, indicates that as the result of an aging population, demand for affordable housing will rise significantly over the next 30 years. The study, titled “Housing in the Nation's Capital—2007,” also indicates that the findings of the Institute, a Washington-based nonprofit think tank, are equally valid for other regions of the nation.
The study noted the U.S. Census Bureau's findings that the nation's population of persons age 65 and older is likely to double, from 40 million currently to 80 million, by the year 2040. The Census Bureau figures also forecast dramatic growth in the number of persons age 85 and older; that number is likely to more than triple nationally, from 4.3 million currently to 15.4 million, by 2040, the study says. And the U.S. population of persons with disabilities is projected to double, from 10 million individuals currently to 20 million, during the same period.
According to Urban Institute researchers, the government has time to implement policies for better meeting an aging population's needs, especially since the first wave of baby boomers is only just beginning to consider retirement.
The study, available at www.urban. org/center/met/hnc, suggests that one way to help people “age in place”—that is, remain in their own homes as they grow older—is for the government to develop strategic partnerships with local homeowners’ associations.
For example, at a homeowners’ association in Boston, members pay a fee of several hundred dollars annually for providers of home repair, maintenance, and even in-home healthcare providers at lower than market rates. This is a form of insurance against the costs of growing older, because services for the elderly remain affordable.
What Government Can Do
Even though demand for services for the elderly will inevitably draw in entrepreneurs seeking to supply low-cost assistance, local government can also help speed the process along, says Barry Jacobs, editor of Housing and Development Reporter. For example, local government should perform a “regional needs assessment” and develop a plan focusing on housing needs of elderly persons. The Urban Institute study indicates that, in Washington, D.C., local government is the only source of housing for persons with special needs, such as the elderly. And these needs are being handled on a case-by-case basis, without a comprehensive written plan, Jacobs says.
The study recommends that, to resolve imminent problems, local government might:
- Remove barriers to affordable housing development, such as zoning and regulatory obstacles;
- Allow local buildings departments to get construction permits faster where affordable housing is under development;
- Increase the number of rental vouchers, and earmark more funding for affordable housing for the elderly;
- Make better use of public land;
- Redouble efforts to preserve existing affordable housing;
- Use Hope VI funds to help special-needs residents living in public housing projects; and
- Issue tax-exempt bonds with 4 percent low-income housing tax credits.
The study reports on efforts made in Washington's surrounding metropolitan area. For example, the City of Fairfax, Va., recently bought a 672-unit site to retain as affordable housing for the elderly.
The private sector is likely to lend a hand, redesigning existing structures to accommodate the needs of the elderly, Jacobs says. Contractors can alter structures minimally so elderly residents won't have to move, he notes. For example, ramps can be substituted for front stairs, allowing wheelchair accessibility, he adds.
EDITOR'S NOTE: To read more about efforts by local organizations to revitalize existing housing through the use of tax credit financing, see “Reversing the Trend of Dwindling Affordable Housing Stock,” in the April 2008 issue of the Insider, p. 1. For more on the HOPE VI program, see “HOPE VI: A Program with a Future?” in the March 2008 issue of the Insider, p. 1.
Barry Jacobs: Editor, Housing and Development Reporter; Washington, DC