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All Hands on Deck: AARP Among a Growing Field of Industry Leaders Tackling Housing Issues

Accessory dwelling unit
Accessory dwelling unit (ADU) in Washington, DC
Shannon Guzman

Within the span of less than 10 days in January, two tech giants made headlines by announcing separate initiatives to tackle a serious problem in America: housing affordability.

A $500 million pledge from Microsoft consists of loans for the preservation and creation of low-income and middle-income housing.  The investment also includes funding to address homelessness. Meanwhile, the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, founded by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, is leading a group of companies and organizations in creating two housing-related funds totaling $500 million.

Many communities are experiencing an affordable housing crisis in the U.S. and no one sector can solve these issues. Collaboration between public, private and nonprofit sectors are critical in expanding housing options for people at all income levels.  Like Microsoft and Facebook, AARP is fostering innovative approaches. AARP’s work reaches into both affordability and a host of other housing challenges as well.

Housing Challenges

Almost one-third of US households, more than 38 million, are considered housing cost burdened, paying more than 30 percent of their income for housing. Older adults, who head 55 percent of US households, are among those feeling the strain. Thus, many families, especially those earning low wages or on fixed incomes (as are many retired individuals), face hard choices between paying for food, transportation and medical services.

Moreover, aside from affordability issues, older adults face other housing challenges. A majority of older adults tell AARP they want to remain in their homes and communities as they age. Some of the necessary community elements people need as they age include suitable housing (i.e., affordable and designed for all ages), places to recreate and connect with friends, and access to health care services. Yet all too often, such features are not a part of a given community’s fabric.

AARP is developing innovative policies and programs as well as working with several partners, including from the private sector, to meet today’s housing challenges. Following are a few examples.

Future of Housing

Through its Future of Housing initiative, AARP and AARP Foundation partnered with the Home Depot Foundation, the Wells Fargo Foundation, and Home Matters to hold a design competition challenging architects to integrate universal design and accessible features into a home in Memphis, TN. This “age-less” home is a real-life example showing homeowners and builders the possibilities for making a home barrier-free for someone with limited mobility.

Accessory Dwelling Units as a Solution

AARP is partnering with the American Planning Association (APA) and several locally based organizations to further tap the potential of accessory dwelling units (ADUs). ADUs can increase the housing stock of a community simply by working with what’s already there (think: small detached units built in backyards, converted garages, basements that become apartments).  ADUs can provide opportunities for income generation for the homeowner, allow space for a caregiver, and provide low-cost housing options to people in a community.

Regulations, financing, and permitting, however, can hinder ADU developments. Together APA and AARP are conducting research and convening industry experts to better understand the state of ADU policies across the country. Research results will shape development of resources to help communities adopt or improve existing ADUs policies.

And specifically within the livability arena, AARP is doing even more to empower homeowners and inform policymakers and industry leaders on strategies to tackle housing issues:

Livable Communities Measured.

The AARP Livability Index is an online resources that evaluates neighborhoods across a range of areas, including housing affordability and accessibility, on how well they meet the needs of people as they age. The tool works for everyone from experts and policymakers to consumers.

Awarding Entrepreneurial Problem Solvers

Through the AARP Foundation Prize, the Foundation has awarded $100,000 to startups who bring health care services and caregiving assistance into the homes of older adults to help them age in place.

Funding Innovative and Promising Models

AARP has issued $2 million in Community Challenge Grants to fund local initiatives and projects, including housing—for example, home repair and maintenance programs and affordable housing demonstration projects. The program is gearing up now to award an additional $1 million in grants for 2019.

Working Together

Communities are searching for effective strategies, new ideas, and information to become great places to live. Through the strength of partnerships, AARP and other like-minded organizations can use their expertise and resources to help tackle such issues as affordable housing and making communities more livable for everyone. So, welcome, Microsoft and Facebook.

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Shannon Guzman is a policy research senior analyst at the AARP Public Policy Institute. Her areas of expertise include livable communities, smart growth policy, community planning, and land-use, housing, and transportation policy.

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