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Housing: Improving How and Where We Live

Mayors across the country are helping people of all ages live in places that are safe, afforda­ble and accessible. Here's how

Boston, Beacon Hill Neighborhood, Rowhomes, Cobbled Streets, Front Doorstep, AARP Livable Communities, Improving How And Where We Live

Brian Jannsen/Alamy Stock Photo

Famous Acorn Street in Beacon Hill, Boston Massachusetts USA.

Close to 90 percent of people over age 65 want to remain in their homes and communities for as long as possible, according to a report by the AARP Public Policy Insti­tute and the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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Supporting this goal requires reimagining everything from residential home design features to how housing is integrated into the community.

Affordable housing is also critical because people’s financial stability is easily threatened by increases in rent, taxes or the cost of major home repairs.

Brickfront townhomes in Boston, as shown in the Housing chapter opener of the book Where We Live

Getty Images

Boston townhouses, as seen in the Housing chapter of "Where We Live."

Housing affordability and access have cross-generational benefits as well. Age-friendly upgrades can help people of all ages — parents with strollers, teens using crutches after a sports injury, or family caregivers supporting older relatives — and are investments for future generations.

Housing in walkable places creates vibrant communities for young and old, and making affordable housing more available helps low- and middle-income individuals and families make ends meet.

Mayors nationwide understand the importance of home and they're taking actions to help people of all ages live in places that are safe, afforda­ble and accessible.

The Takeaways

  • Data-driven assessments are a critical founda­tion for comprehensive approaches: There is no quick fix to an affordable housing crunch. Effective policies are grounded in a thorough understanding of local housing and labor markets as well as popula­tion trends.

  • Solutions require partnerships: Successful strategies balance government-sponsored and market-based alternatives and leverage the expertise and ideas of diverse stakeholders — from banks and builders to housing experts and community advocates.

  • Small investments can reap big dividends: For instance, in-home services and home modifications — such as installing a zero-step entrance, a frameless shower, secure stair railings and grab bars — can help older residents live inde­pendently and safely in their homes.
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh hammers nails on a home construction site.

Image from the book "Where We Live," photograph by Jeremiah Robinson, City of Boston

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh lends a hand on a residential construction site.

Hers's What Mayors Have Been Doing

Boston, Massachusetts

Mayor Marty Walsh (Term: 2014-)
Housing a Changing City: Boston 2030

Boston gained more than 28,000 new residents in the first decade of the 21st century, and data indicates that growth will continue.

The city's Metropolitan Area Planning Council esti­mates an influx of more than 91,000 people, some 49,000 households, with the population exceeding 700,000 by 2030. The council's analysis projects a 13 percent increase in Boston's workforce. And as baby boomers start to retire, residents older than 65 will head one-fifth of Boston households; an estimated 17,500 of these 22,500 households will decide to stay in their homes as they age. The council also looked at the housing needs of low-income residents and the impact of students of the city's colleges and universities.

To keep pace with this population boom, Mayor Marty Walsh is championing Boston 2030, which aims to produce 53,000 new housing units: 44,000 new units appropriate for working Bostonians, 5,000 units for older residents, and 4,000 units to help stabilize rents and prices to keep housing affordable. In addition, the city will partner with colleges and universities to construct 16,000 new dorm beds to decrease the number of students in the private rental market.

Each aspect of the plan includes detailed action steps such as providing incentives to private builders, streamlining permitting, using surplus city land for new development, preserving existing low-income housing, negotiating with building trades to lower costs, and providing tools and resources to help Bostonians rent, buy and stay in their homes.

The city’s Inclusionary Development Policy, which requires developers to construct or fund affordable units alongside market-rate projects, is gaining traction. And the city’s Office of Housing Stability is developing new resources to support residents of rental apartments that are converted to condos.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio at an affordable housing rally

Photo by Michael Appleton, New York City Mayoral Photography Office

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio at an affordable housing event.

New York, New York

Mayor Bill De Blasio (Term: 2014-)
Housing New York

New York City has long been one of the most expensive housing markets in the country — and the world.

By implementing a 10-year plan designed to create 200,000 affordable housing units across the city's five boroughs, Mayor Bill de Blasio is trying to make it easier for low- and middle-income residents to stay in the Big Apple. His Housing New York project mobilizes the full spectrum of city government: 50 initiatives involve 13 different agencies and input from more than 200 stakeholders.

Pro­grams targeting specific segments of New York’s population are under way, including a $350 million program to finance 10,000 affordable housing units for low-income seniors and the development of 150 new live/work spaces for artists. De Blasio's commitment to expanding access to affordable housing is in keeping with New York's broader focus of supporting its older residents.

Oakland, California

Mayor Libby Schaaf (Term: 2015-)
Housing Equity Roadmap

Oakland's housing market heats up, Mayor Libby Schaaf is making sure longtime residents aren't left out in the cold. With an influx of new businesses and residents, Oakland is the nation’s sixth most expensive rental market — a reality that adds significant stress to the budgets of low-income residents.

To address this prob­lem, Schaaf is putting the weight of the mayor's office behind the 41 actions outlined in the city's Housing Action Plan, which was born out of the Housing Cabinet that Schaaf established less than one year into her term. The plan aims to protect 17,000 existing households from displacement and build 17,000 new units for residents at all income levels over the next eight years.

To protect renters, Schaaf launched a new Safe Housing Inspection Program. This joint effort of the city's fire and planning departments steps up the inspection of rental units and works with landlords to make needed repairs. Schaaf has also called on the city council to increase funding for tenant outreach and assistance to help those facing eviction or displacement.

Salt Lake City, Utah

Former Mayor Ralph Becker (Term: 2008-2016) 5,000 Doors

During Ralph Becker's two terms as mayor, the data on housing affordability in Salt Lake City was clear — and disturbing. Home prices were skyrocketing.

Fully one-quarter of the city's renters devoted more than half their income to housing costs. These startling numbers were the impetus for Becker's 5,000 Doors initiative, a five-year plan to add 5,000 new housing units for low-wage workers, middle-income families, older adults on fixed incomes and people with disabilities. Based on a thorough data-driven assessment, 5,000 Doors focuses equally on units for low-income renters and expanding home ownership opportunities for low- and middle-income residents. But the vision for the program extends much further.

By involving stakeholders — including local banks, developers and community groups — the program kick-started an ongoing conversation and com­mitment to keep housing affordable through mixed-income development across the city.

San Diego, California

Mayor Kevin Faulconer(Term: 2014-)
HERO Program

Thousands of San Diego residents are making home improvements that lower their utility bills, thanks to Mayor Kevin Faulconer and the city's HERO (Home Energy Renovation Opportunity) Program.

Launched in July 2014, HERO helps homeowners finance energy and water-saving renovations and equipment upgrades. No upfront cash is required to purchase and install products such as new windows and roofs, drought-tolerant landscaping and energy-efficient or renewable energy heating and cooling systems. Instead, HERO fully funds the upgrades, and homeowners repay the investment through special assess­ments on their property tax bills. Payment terms are flexible, and interest charges may be tax deductible. (A caveat: A homeowner who seeks to sell the property may need to repay the HERO funding in full before any sale.)

In just over 18 months, San Diegans completed nearly 2,500 home improvement projects through the program. In addition to long-term savings on home utility bills, HERO also supports Faulconer's sustainability goals. The city is on track to meet its 2035 residential retrofit goals as early as 2019, and the program has already reduced emissions by 74,000 tons and conserved nearly 240 million gallons of water.

Schenectady, New York

Mayor Gary McCarthy (Term: 2011-)
HOMES (Home Ownership Made Easy Schnectady)

Mayor Gary McCarthy believes in the power of home ownership to improve quality of life. To promote this vision, McCarthy launched HOMES — Home Ownership Made Easy Schenectady — a comprehensive program that provides financial incentives and educational workshops to first-time homebuyers. HOMES also hosts open house events for city-owned properties that are for sale. To help longtime residents remain in their homes as they age, the city of Schenec­tady, in partnership with local charitable organ­izations, connects older residents to a range of in-home services.

Washington, D.C.

Mayor Muriel Bowser (Term: 2015-)
Genesis Intergenerational Community and Safe at Home

In November 2015, Mayor Muriel Bowser said "welcome home" to the residents of Genesis, a unique, affordable, intergenerational housing community in Washington, D.C.

Active, ser­vice-minded older residents are the foundation of the community, which also includes fami­lies transitioning from foster care and others interested in living in a uniquely supportive environment. Residents commit to being good neighbors through required community par­ticipation activities such as running errands, watching or tutoring a neighbor's child or organ­izing community dinners and art classes. The 27-unit building was developed by the District in partnership with nonprofit housing developer Mi Casa, the Generations of Hope Development Corporation, Latin American Youth Centers and Vida Senior Centers.

With the Safe at Home program, Bowser leverages city resources to help older residents stay in their homes by offer­ing qualified residents up to $10,000 in grant funding to make home improvements that will reduce the risk of falls and eliminate barriers that limit mobility.

Learn more: Website for the District of Columbia | Washington, D.C., is a member of the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities

Summary published June 2016

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