By 2030, one in every five Americans will be over age 65, says the U.S. Census Bureau, and our nation will face a severe shortage in appropriate housing to meet their needs.
Meanwhile, communities today are struggling with an affordable housing crisis, outdated zoning codes and rising rates of homelessness and evictions.
It was in this context that the 2022 AARP Livable Communities Workshop: Housing for People of All Ages brought together thousands of local leaders, housing practitioners, and AARP staff and volunteers to explore how communities nationwide can provide safe, affordable housing options for individuals and families of all backgrounds, incomes and abilities.
More than 50 speakers addressed the workshop’s core themes — Housing Choice, Design, Stability and Equity — and shared inspiring next steps for meeting the housing needs of a changing nation. Attendees asked hundreds of questions throughout the two day, online program that was held on September 21 and 22.
Following are some key takeaways and calls to action from the event:
Older adults want to live independently in their own homes and current communities, but housing design and policy changes are needed for that to happen more easily.
- American’s housing stock does not meet the needs of a growing aging population, and most communities have not aligned their housing policies and programs to meet the nation’s shifting demographics. (See the AARP publication Making Room: Housing for a Changing America.)
- There are opportunities to rethink the types of housing that is needed and what homes now need to provide. For instance, the Housing Design panel of the workshop discussed how access to broadband — or high-speed internet — has become a livability need. Homes designed with at least one zero-step entrance benefit older adults as well as younger people who have a mobility impairment.
- As confirmed by the AARP Community Preferences Survey, the current generation of older adults wants to live in intergenerational communities, and they want to remain active, vibrant members of society who can safely access and use local parks, transit, stores and other amenities.
"One of the best things we can do as local leaders — and as mayors across the country — is to really advocate and plan around truly becoming 15-minute cities, where regardless of where you live, you have access to a grocery store that sells fresh fruits and vegetables, access to highly reliable and affordable public transit, and access to a park that's well lit, well-programmed for our seniors and our families and our grandchildren to play in and have a great time. That's what good urban planning looks like."
— Mayor Justin Bibb of Cleveland, Ohio, during the Local Leaders Taking Action conversation
Zoning is one of the biggest barriers to progress, prompting many communities to reexamine their zoning codes.
- The nation needs more homes — and more housing types — in every community. According to The White House and Moody's Analytics, the United States is short more than 1.5 million homes nationwide.
- However, many communities haven’t reexamined their zoning codes in decades. As a result, the status quo from a distant time are controlling how people live today. Many of these land use ordinances create barriers to providing the variety of options that people want and need.
- Two free AARP publications address zoning and housing variety in detail. Discovering and Developing Missing Middle Housing, coauthored with the design and planning firm Opticos Design, features photographs, information and advice about expanding housing options. Enabling Better Places: A Handbook for Improved Neighborhoods, a guide about incremental zoning code reform, was created with the Congress for the New Urbanism.
“Zoning impacts equity, the economy, and the environment. Because zoning affects so much of how we use and order our communities, it tells us where we can live, it tells us where we can work, it tells us where we can build factories, how we can get around. It impacts every aspect of our economy and our society.”
— Sara Bronin, Cornell University professor and director of the National Zoning Atlas, during the Day 2 Keynote Address
Systemic problems need systemic solutions.
- Housing insecurity is a solvable problem, said panelists during the Housing Stability session, noting that homelessness and housing instability are problems many communities are trying to tackle and end. The adjacent challenge is to stem the tide so more people don’t lose their homes. The COVID-19 pandemic was a shock to a housing system already stretched thin.
- As noted during the workshop's Keynote Interview, homelessness impacts roughly 400,000 people in the U.S. every single night.
- Learn more about how communities can adopt compassionate, respectful and dignified responses to unhoused people in Addressing Homelessness in Parks: An Inclusive Practices Guide, a free, downloadable publication by 8 80 Cities that was created with support from AARP.
“Affordable housing and homelessness are all part of the same continuum, which means that to address homelessness, we need to make sure there are enough affordable homes for people to live in.”
— Liz Osborn of Enterprise Community Partners during the Housing Stability session
Federal funding represents a momentous opportunity to strengthen the housing landscape in communities with an eye toward the future.
- Historic federal investments — namely the American Rescue Plan Act, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (Bipartisan Infrastructure Law), and the Inflation Reduction Act — have created a once-in-a-lifetime chance to make transformative changes in the housing landscape. States and cities have more tools and money at their disposal. Many are taking action.
“This is our best opportunity to make change. There will not come another time when states and cities and rural communities have the kind of resources they have today. The original COVID packages, the American Rescue Plan, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Inflation Reduction Act — we've got all of these things that have created billions of dollars for states and cities. If we cannot do it with the resources we have today, I don't know when we can get it done. We have the tools. We need the will.”
— Secretary Marcia L. Fudge, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, during the Day 1 Keynote Interview
Progress starts with a conversation, and older adults have a critical voice.
- Every community is having a housing crisis. Often, the opposition to solutions comes from neighborhood groups. One of the ways to overcome the nays is by having a conversation about the benefits of creating more housing choices — and more housing that's affordable — encouraged panelists in the Housing Choice session.
- Sharing information and using creative community engagement methods can make all the difference. One successful story can be found by reading about the work done by local leaders in Lexington, Kentucky to advance discussions about accessory dwelling units. (Visit AARP.org/ADUs to find numerous AARP resources about this historic housing type that's very much needed today.)
"When it comes to local planning and prioritizing how state and federal dollars are spent, local leaders are not always hearing from senior voices. They're an invisible segment that is in dire need of low-income affordable and middle-income housing, as well as more housing options, especially housing with transportation and wraparound supportive services."
— Susan DeMarois of the California Department of Aging during the State Leaders Taking Action conversation
It’s critical to address long-standing disparities in housing.
- The legacy of housing discrimination in the United States hasn’t been fully reckoned with. (See page 2 of Enabling Better Places: A Handbook for Improved Neighborhoods to read about the practice of "redlining.") Speakers in the Housing Equity panel at the workshop addressed how communities can embed fair housing principles in their plans, work to expand home ownership to groups that have been historically excluded, ensure equitable housing opportunities and work to eliminate housing discrimination.
- More integrated, racially- and economically-diverse neighborhoods help communities to prosper and are good for the economy. Exclusionary zoning laws hamper economic growth and limit opportunities for communities and individuals. Investing in equitable housing policies, the panelists note, help to expand the housing market, create jobs and generate local revenue.
"Housing accounts for nearly 20 percent of our nation's GDP. Equitable housing policies can help all families have a seat at the table, lessen negative climate impacts, and provide the economic engine to grow the economy for everyone."
— Nikitra Bailey of the National Fair Housing Coalition during the Housing Equity session
People want the same things no matter where they live.
- Communities have more in common than their differences. People everywhere — renters and homeowners, residents of urban, suburban and rural communities — want safe and secure housing options for themselves and their families.
- Rural areas can see advantages through tackling local zoning codes so they protect open spaces and locate residential and commercial development to where both make the most sense.
"I think initially people walk in with this urban and rural divide, but once you understand that we're talking about people — and people need the same things no matter where they are — the conversation becomes different. So I would just tell people to step back and think about who we're talking about and what they actually need to be successful and have a happy life. Then you'll find out that we have a lot more in common."
— Nebraska State Senator Justin Wayne during the State Leaders Taking Action conversation
We all have a part to play.
- While the housing challenges that communities face are daunting, there are solutions. Policymakers, organizations, developers and citizen advocates all have a part to play in meeting the housing needs of our nation. This was on display throughout the workshop as well as during Missing Middle Housing walking tours led by AARP State Offices in several communities to raise awareness about the need for housing options.
Get In Touch
If you attended the 2022 AARP Livable Communities Workshop live, or engage with the event by watching the videos, and you learn something valuable (and, hopefully, actionable) for your community, please let us know.
Page published October 2022
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