How to Promote Aging in Place (Hint: It’s More Than Wheelchair Accessibility)

How Housing Matters

Type the phrase “aging in place” into a Google search, and you’ll likely see pictures of wheelchairs fitting comfortably through home doorways, bathtubs and showers with zero-step entrances, and open floorplans to facilitate seamless movement from room to room.

But what is often missed in discussions promoting aging in place is that increasing livability doesn’t just mean adapting a home’s physical characteristics, it also means ensuring a range of cost options and housing types in a single community.

In 2015, the AARP Public Policy Institute released the Livability Index, a scoring system for communities across the United States based on 60 indicators that align with seven categories: housing, neighborhood, transportation, environment, health, engagement, and opportunity. A policy update in 2017, followed by a comprehensive update (PDF)of the online tool in 2018 added three years of data, and allows communities to assess their progress in becoming more livable for all ages over multiple years.

The Livability Index’s select indicators highlight that increasing a community’s livability through housing requires policies that promote not just housing accessibility but also housing options and affordability. “As far as livability, we want to see communities that have housing options that allow people to remain in their homes and communities as they age. What we like to see is an expansion of housing options for people who choose a home in their early 30s and can age into it. And if they can no longer live in their home, for health circumstances or a job change, that they have other accessible and low-cost options in their community,” says Shannon Guzman, a senior strategic policy advisor at the AARP Public Policy Institute.

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