Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: Aging in Place and the Housing That Supports It

Thursday, November 12, 2015 : 1:45 PM
Miami Lecture Hall (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Sewin Chan and Ingrid Gould Ellen, New York University
Surveys have shown that the vast majority of older adults in the U.S. want to remain in their homes and communities for as long as possible, and a growing body of research has documented the emotional, financial and health benefits of aging in place.  However, little is known about the degree to which the national housing stock can support this strategy.  In this paper, we use the American Housing Survey (AHS) to examine the distribution and changing occupancy of homes that could allow seniors to successfully age in place.  These include homes from which local amenities can be reached without driving, and that include, or could be modified to include, accessibility features appropriate for people with mobility difficulties.

In defining accessibility, we use three composite measures, corresponding to increasing levels of accessibility, that we developed using the 2011 AHS’s new module on housing modifications. The three levels define homes that are: (1) not yet accessible but have essential structural elements that make them potentially modifiable, (2) appropriate for individuals with moderate mobility difficulties, and (3) accessible to wheelchair users. We couple these measures of physical housing attributes with neighborhood characteristics that facilitate aging in place, such as whether retail, doctors’ offices and parks can be reached by transit or by walking. 

We first document the startling scarcity of units in the U.S. housing stock that are well-suited for aging in place.  As an indication of whether the housing market is responding to changing demographic trends, we investigate the extent to which newer homes are more likely to have aging in place features.

Second, we examine the factors that predict whether seniors in 2011 and 2013 live in homes that are suitable for aging in place.  These factors include length of occupancy, tenure, household composition, income, education, race, ethnicity, and the extent of disability.  We also explore how people with mobility difficulties might be coping in homes without accessibility features by receiving help from others. Given the scarcity of accessible homes, a considerable share of the potentially modifiable homes would have to be modified, and a large fraction of seniors would have to move in order to accommodate a current or future mobility disability.

Third, we investigate the turnover of homes that are suitable for aging in place from 2009-11 and from 2011-13.  Focusing on recent movers, we find that seniors are more likely to move into homes that are suitable for aging in place, and that those with disabilities are more likely to move into accessible homes.  We show differences in the propensity of seniors and those with mobility difficulties to remain in homes that are suitable for aging in place, compared with otherwise similar households. We explore whether seniors who stay in their homes are more likely to be joined by younger family members if their homes are suitability for aging in place.  We note differences for Hispanics and Asians households, likely due to greater cultural acceptance of multi-generation living arrangements.