Many States Now Helping Aging Americans to Stay in Their Homes

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As we discussed previously, the number of Americans who are age 65 and older is expected to nearly double over the next 20 years, and 20 percent of seniors believe they will always live in their current residence. New state laws and initiatives are helping older Americans accomplish that.

The National Conference of State Legislatures and the AARP Public Policy Institute has released “Aging in Place: A State Survey of Livability Policies and Practices,” a report that examines how land use, transportation and housing initiatives at the state level affect quality of life for seniors and help them stay in their homes longer. It points out that seniors resorting to institutional care can lead to increased costs for states.

The major findings that enable aging in place include the following:

Land Use: Certain land use policies can help older adults live closer to or within walking distance of the services they need. Of Americans age 65 and over, 21 percent don’t drive a car, making land use and transportation critical to access services.

At least 12 states have statutes addressing transit-oriented development (TOD) — the concept that housing, offices and retail should be located close to transit stops. They are providing grants and incentives for development and are acquiring land to make TOD more feasible. For instance, through the Transit-Oriented Development Bond Program, the state of Massachusetts has given out more than $13 million for housing, bike parking and pedestrian facilities near transit stations. Their state legislature has provided an additional $20 million.

Transportation: Increased mobility options can reduce reliance on transportation by personal car. In 2008, seniors age 65 and older made up 13 percent of the population, but were involved in 15 percent of vehicle fatalities and 19 percent of pedestrian deaths.

To help residents travel more safely by automobile, bike, walking and transit, 25 states have implemented “complete streets” policies. Some state laws now designate pedestrians and cyclists as “vulnerable users,” and at least 10 states have considered similar laws in the past 5 years. Also addressing transportation issues for seniors, Oregon and Georgia have laws that specifically protect volunteer drivers from civil liability.

Housing: Affordable, accessible housing can decrease institutionalization and meet consumer demand. With 48 percent of mortgage holders and 59 percent of renters age 65 or older spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing. Forty states have housing trust funds to build and finance affordable housing.

According to a 2006 survey, 68 percent of funds surveyed addressed housing for older adults and 12 percent had specific regulations that give extra consideration to projects for that demographic. To address building standards, Texas requires that affordable housing has to meet accessibility standards — such as bathrooms with grab bars and wide hallways — before receiving state or federal funds.

The report also includes promising state practices in each of these areas. Learn more by downloading Aging in Place: A State Survey of Livability Policies and Practices.”

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