A Livable Lesson

How to Encourage More 'Lifelong' Housing

The U.S. population is rapidly aging, yet few homes are age- and accessibility-friendly. Here's how community leaders in Oregon's Rogue Valley are working to change that

 

The no-step entry of a certified lifelong home in Oregon's Rogue Valley. (Follow the link on the next page to take a slideshow tour.) — Photo courtesy Sharon and Howard Johnson

With one in three Americans now 50 or older, being prepared as a nation to support the needs — and benefit from the contributions — of older adults is becoming more and more important.

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In Oregon, where the 65-plus population is expected to increase 105 percent by 2050 and the 85-plus population by 214 percent, the urgency is building. This is especially true in the two most populous counties that make up southern Oregon's Rogue Valley, where 40 percent of the residents in Jackson County and 46 percent of those in Josephine County are already 50 or older.

AARP has roughly 50,000 members in the Rogue Valley and has been working with local partners, including the Rogue Valley Council of Governments (RVCOG), to make the valley a more livable place for people of all ages. In a 2012 survey by AARP, 85 percent of southern Oregon residents age 50 and older said they want to remain in their current home for as long as possible. However, the study also revealed that affordable housing and the availability of age- and accessibility-friendly housing are the two biggest weaknesses for the area’s overall livability.

For RVCOG, which serves as the region’s Metropolitan Planning Organization as well as its Area Agency on Aging and Disability, the availability of accessible homes has been an emerging issue. In 2009, the council’s then-director of Senior and Disability Services, who also served on AARP Oregon's volunteer leadership team, brought the valley’s housing challenges to AARP’s attention and presented the idea of a home certification system. A partnership was formed and work began to develop the program.

HERE'S HOW IT WORKS

WHAT: The Lifelong Housing Certification Project

A voluntary evaluation program, the Lifelong Housing Certification Project provides a way to assess the "age-friendliness" and accessibility of both newly constructed and existing homes.

Developed by the RVCOG in collaboration with AARP Oregon, the program includes a comprehensive checklist of features and defines levels of certification based on various universal design standards.

The certification is appropriate for all homes — rental apartments, new construction or existing houses — and is intended to help consumers and industry professionals choose the desired level of accessibility in buying, selling or modifying homes. The Lifelong Housing Certification Project helps the marketplace respond to a growing demand for accessible and adaptable homes that promote aging in place safely and independently. At the same time, the certification makes it easier for individuals of all ages to find homes that are suitable for lifelong living and promote the social and economic value of lifelong livability.   

WHERE: The program was developed in southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley and is currently operating in Jackson and Josephine counties. Washington County, in northwestern Oregon, has launched a pilot of the program.

WHEN: Discussions and program planning began in 2010. The certification program pilot testing of the standards began in 2011. In 2012, RVCOG and AARP convened a statewide committee to refine the standards and facilitate expansion of the program into other parts of the state. The program became available for public use in 2013, and the first certifications were issued in 2014.

The Stakeholders

The program's local and statewide committees include participation from AARP, RVCOG and other aging and disability agencies; housing industry professionals, including builders, Realtors, home inspectors, architects, Certified Aging-in-Place Specialists (CAPS); members of local home builders and real estate associations, independent living centers, and local nonprofits; aging advocates and consumers with disabilities.

The Target Audience(s)

The program seeks to engage professional builders, remodelers, contractors, Realtors, landlords and consumers who are home owners, home sellers, home renters and caregivers for older adults and family members with disabilities.

Program Promotion

Local consumers and housing industry professionals learn about the program from outreach activities (such as a booth at the Southern Oregon Home and Garden Show) and educational events for consumers and industry professionals that are organized by RVCOG, AARP and other partners, including the local organization Age-Friendly Innovators. People can also find or learn more about the program online at the Rogue Valley Council of Governments website rvcog.org.

Program Benefits

The Lifelong Housing Certification Project offers value to consumers regardless of their age, income and ability as well as to the housing industry.

  • By establishing a standard way of identifying lifelong homes in the marketplace, homebuyers are better able to look at homes that will be suitable for their needs. The program provides homeowners looking to remain in their home with guidance how to make modifications that will result in the home being livable for a lifetime — for themselves as well as for future owners.

  • The certification provides Realtors with standardized knowledge and a trusted tool to aid as an additional sales feature.

  • The community education aspect of the program promotes the social and economic value of lifelong livability.

  • Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the Lifelong Housing Certification Project provides architects, builders, remodelers and appraisers with a trusted, standardized tool to use when working with consumers who are considering buying, building or modifying a home for lifelong livability.

Program Standards

Homes are certified at three different "levels."

A Level 1 certification means the home contains the mandatory features that are needed in order for a home to be "visitable" by all guests. For instance, that means a person using a mobility device such as a wheelchair can easily navigate the main entertainment area, half- or full-bathroom and the hallway leading to and from that bathroom.

A Level 2 certification means a home is "fully accessible" and includes a variety of mandatory and optional features that make the home’s central living area accessible for lifelong living; it also ensures that a person using a mobility device can perform all personal and housekeeping functions.

The Level 3 or highest certification level is given to homes with "enhanced accessibility," which not only means the home includes the features required by the previous levels but, in addition, has been customized for personalized accessibility. The specific enhancements are listed on the certificate and may include smart technologies or features that meet the needs of visually or hearing impaired residents, etc.

Next page: The step-by-step process. » 


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