Mulling solutions

One out of three American households will be headed by someone over the age of 65 by 2035. And by that same year, the number of older households with someone that has a disability will increase by 76%, according to the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies report “Projections and Implications for Housing a Growing Population: Older Households 2015 – 2035”, released in 2016.

Housing design features that increase accessibility or universal design elements such as zero-step entrances, electrical controls that are reachable from a wheelchair, lever-style handles on faucets and doors, single-floor living and wide halls and doorways are viewed as particularly important for older adults to stay in their home, according to the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies report.

However, only 1% of the current housing stock in the U.S. offers all five of these features.

Solutions for the accessible housing shortage range from home sharing to better building communities for the future, sources note.

“We are seeing an increased appetite for home sharing,” Arigoni said. “That means opening up your home to roommates or non-family members to share … and we [have seen] growth in the last four years in [the number of people] already or willing to share their homes. I think part of that has to do with the growing popularity of Airbnb and the degree to which the sharing economy has changed the way people look at their home as an asset.”

Other such trends in the space include home modifications with an accessary unit or mother-in-law unit. While this can benefit communities, these kind of modifications can be illegal in some areas.

“Many states and communities recognize that the zoning and building code environment doesn’t encourage that kind of home modification,” Arigoni said. “A lot of communities are examining what is possible in terms of changing policy to facilitate [more home modifications].”

Equally important to changing policy is to inform neighbors of the benefits these units can bring to an area, Arigoni said. There is a perception that these modifications can change the character of a neighborhood and invite new traffic congestion. But telling the story better and explaining why these modifications are happening it makes it more palatable for residents and neighbors, she added.

Local efforts in Maine are also working toward solutions. For example: Bath Housing’s Comfortably Home, a program to offer no-cost home safety checks and accessibility enhancements to low-income seniors and a Maine income tax credit, for individuals who earn $55,000 or less, for modifications to their residence to make it more accessible.

Written by Kaitlyn Mattson

As seen in the SRES Association Newsletter