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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

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Exterior and front garden, Odyssey House, Carmel, California, USA.

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.

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Del Rio Vineyards and oak tree covered hills Rogue Valley Oregon

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

The Step-by-Step Process

  1. The homeowner or builder interested in certifying a home contacts the Rogue Valley Council of Governments for a list of independent Lifelong Housing Certification inspectors and selects an inspector to hire. After the inspection is complete, the homeowner pays the inspector for the evaluation and also pays a certification fee. (These fees typically run about $150 and $35, respectively.)

  2. After the evaluation, the inspector provides the completed Lifelong Housing checklist and the certification fee to RVCOG. RVCOG issues a certificate to the homeowner and adds the home to its database.

  3. The homeowner or builder provides a copy of the certificate and checklist to potential buyers. The certification may also be indicated on the local Multiple Listing Service in order to flag the home as being a "lifelong home" and alert potential buyers to ask the home seller or real estate agent for information regarding the home’s certification level.

How the Standards and Steps Were Developed

The RVOGC Senior and Disability Services, in partnership with AARP Oregon, convened a small working committee of industry professionals and consumers to develop a program to certify accessible housing. The goal was to raise awareness in the community about the value of accessibility in private homes in order to eventually increase the amount of accessible housing available in Jackson and Josephine counties.

For 18 months the Lifelong Housing Certification workgroup met once a month to develop the standards checklist and accessibility levels, design an administrative process to implement the program, establish an inspection and certification process, determine costs and fees, recruit and train inspectors and set up procedures for database maintenance. The workgroup also developed and implemented a public education and promotion plan for the program.

Staffing

The program is administered by RVCOG, which staffs the advisory council and maintains the referral database of certified inspectors and a list of certified homes.

The inspectors are independent contractors or business owners (i.e., they are not employed by the RVCOG) who must be state-licensed home or building inspectors. They are required to attend an orientation about universal design and the specifics of the Lifelong Housing Certification Project in order to be on the referral list.

The Costs (and Who Pays)

The inspection fee for the certification is arranged between the Lifelong Housing Certification inspector and the homeowner since there will be variables that affect the cost, such as the location of the home and whether it is newly constructed or a remodel. Homes may require more than one visit. As noted, the standard recommended inspection fee is $150. An additional fee of $35 per certificate is paid to RVCOG for program administration.

Feedback and Future Plans

The response to date has been positive from all sectors, and was especially so during an April 2014 industry symposium where participants included Realtors, contractors, builders and inspectors who understand the demographic realities of today’s housing consumers and recognize the market value of adopting age-friendly approaches.

Age-Friendly Innovators, a local nonprofit, has been championing the program and has worked with builder W.L. Moore Construction on the construction of five LLH certified homes in Twin Creeks, a new transit-oriented development (TOD) located in the Jackson County city of Central Point. The five homes were sold in record time. (Follow the link in the sidebar above for a look inside one of the homes.)

The program has also had a great response from the general public. Consumers are using the certification checklist as a guide when considering home modifications. Remodeled homes have started to be certified.

As a result of interest from other regions of the state, working groups have been launched in Washington County and the Portland metro area. In the summer of 2014 RVCOG received an Innovations Fund Award from the Oregon Department of Human Services to further develop the program and reach more industry leaders. The award also includes a pilot to demonstrate whether home modification for accessibility can save public dollars for long-term services and supports.

Learn More

Bandana Shrestha is the AARP Oregon associate state director for community outreach.

Published January 2015


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