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It’s time to get serious about aging in place

As my affordable housing colleagues work toward achieving positive outcomes when it comes to the future of affordable housing, and as talk swirls around the nation around potential changes or replacement of the Affordable Care Act, often referred to as “Obamacare,” I think about older adults. Many of them have intertwined housing and health needs, as both their incomes and health will decline with age. Now, more than ever, is the time to seriously engage in developing strategies to increase the amount of housing that is affordable, accessible and that meets the diverse safety and service needs of the rapidly growing number of older adults.

As reports from NHCand other organizations like Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies have shown, the affordable and accessible housing needs of the growing older adult population are far from met. By 2030, 132 million Americans will be 65 or older. Many of these older adults will pay more than what is affordable on rent, mortgage, property taxes or utilities. Furthermore, many may be at great risk of injury through falls and other mobility related challenges and many may not be able to complete basic daily activities without some help. Currently, there is just not enough housing available to meet the varied needs of these older adults.

As the country grapples with these issues, it is important to remember that not only do most older adults want to age in their home or their community instead of in a nursing home, it is also much less costly. At our December How Housing Matters Conference, Catherine Anderson, vice president of state programs at UnitedHealthcare Community & State, explained that managed care organizations estimate that providing health services to older adults at home amounts to approximately a third of the cost of caring for them in a nursing home. The combination of significant savings and the strong preference for aging at home means that we must scale up and build upon existing efforts to help older adults age in place. This fits squarely at the intersection of housing and health, since the housing needs of older adults are affected in great part by their health.

I recently discussed with Justin Worland of TIME Magazine how the unsettled questions currently surrounding the future of healthcare and housing in America means we are not addressing the needs of older adults. As the country thinks about the future of both housing and health, we must also consider how to better coordinate work at the intersection of housing and health to better meet the needs of all Americans, and in particular, the complex and diverse needs of older adults.

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