Housing Quality and Safety

Background

Seventy-seven percent of older adults desire to remain in their homes and communities as they grow older. However, a number of barriers stand in their way. High housing costs and inadequate home maintenance make it difficult to maintain their homes. In addition, the homes may not provide the right environment for older adults if they have mobility limitations and health issues. These problems are particularly critical for older adults from racial and ethnic groups that are discriminated against, rural residents, and women who live alone. 

Home-repair and home-modification programs can eliminate or reduce the barriers to remaining in the home as people get older. These programs can also help improve energy savings and structural durability. In addition, they can help older adults avoid or delay costly institutional care. However, some older homeowners are victims of abusive practices. These include shoddy and incomplete work, fraudulent billing, kickbacks, and overpricing. Consumers are not adequately informed about existing protections or the danger of abuse. The Department of Housing and Urban Development prohibits home-repair contractors from arranging for loans for homeowners under the Federal Housing Administration home improvement loan program because of the prevalence of these abusive practices. 

Multifamily housing safety: Lack of maintenance in apartment complexes and condominium buildings can be extremely dangerous. They can lead to fires and other hazards that are especially harmful to older adults and people with mobility challenges, who may not be able to escape quickly. In 2021, the partial collapse of a large apartment building in Surfside, Florida, killed over 100 residents, more than half of whom were age 50 and older. 

Regular inspections are important to improving multifamily building safety, along with the regulatory authority to require necessary repairs to be made. Reserve studies help determine how much money owners need to set aside to afford repairs over the long term. In the short term, if a building cannot afford necessary repairs outright, it may need to explore financing options. However, there are few affordable options for financing multifamily building repairs.  

HOUSING QUALITY AND SAFETY: Policy

HOUSING QUALITY AND SAFETY: Policy

Funding for repairs and modifications

Funding should be provided for homeowners to repair, modify, and make the residences of older homeowners with low incomes more energy-efficient. This would support their ability to age in place. 

Utilities should be required to provide grants, low-income loans, and rebates to people with low and moderate incomes to make energy efficiency improvements to their homes (see also Chapter 12: Energy Assistance Programs). 

Policymakers should protect consumers from fraudulent or abusive home-modification practices. 

States and local governments should use funds from the Home Investment Partnerships Program, Community Development Block Grants, and Medicaid waiver programs to provide funds for homeowners for repairs and modifications. In addition, they should establish deferred payment loan programs that enable older homeowners to improve the accessibility and habitability of their homes. 

Multifamily housing safety

State and local governments should promote the safety of residents living in multifamily units. 

They should require: 

  • regular inspections and 
  • the completion of any necessary repairs to ensure health and safety. 

Policymakers should ensure sufficient funding for regular code inspections. 

Multifamily building owners should conduct periodic reserve studies to ensure they have adequate finances for necessary repairs. 

Federal housing agencies should create low-cost government-insured loans to enable owners of multifamily buildings to finance costly repairs. 

State and local governments should ensure adequate safety systems and a properly coordinated response in the event of an emergency. Possible safety systems could include sprinklers, fire alarms, and carbon monoxide monitors. Residents should be advised of emergency exit locations and other safety plans in place to prevent fatalities and serious injuries during emergencies.