The vast majority of older adults prefer 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’ mobility limitations and health issues. These problems are particularly critical for older adults of historically disadvantaged racial and ethnic groups, rural residents, and women who live alone.
Home-repair and home-modification programs can eliminate or reduce the barriers to aging within the home. They also help improve energy savings and structural durability (see also Chapter 10, Utilities—Assistance Programs). In addition, they can help older adults avoid or delay costly institutional carewhile helping to preserve a community’s valuable housing stock. 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.
Lack of maintenance in multifamily buildings, such as apartment complexes, can also be dangerous. It can lead to fires that can be especially harmful to older adults with mobility challenges, who may not be able to escape quickly. When fires have broken out, in some instances a lack of coordination among emergency personnel has made it more difficult to rescue people.
MAINTAINING AND REPAIRING HOUSING: Policy
Funding for repairs and modification
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.
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 (DPL) programs that enable older homeowners to improve the accessibility and habitability of their homes.
Weatherization: States should require public utilities to dedicate some portion of earnings to a weatherization fund that offers grants and DPLs to homeowners with low and moderate incomes. Technical assistance should be available to assist older homeowners in making necessary improvements and repairs.
States should develop new programs (or expand existing ones) that complement the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program by providing improved weatherization and residential energy savings for households with low incomes (see Chapter 10, Utilities: Telecommunications, Energy and Other Services—Assistance Programs).
Multifamily housing safety
State and local governments should promote the safety of residents living in multifamily units. This includes ensuring 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.