Fixing the Roof

Housing in later life

While a lot of my practice is focused on aging and Alzheimer's disease, I am interested in community housing issues. I am incredibly passionate about improving the well-being of our community residents, particularly as they age into later life. While I've only been living in Kentucky for a couple of years now, it was abundantly clear when I came to Lexington that we've got a bit of a housing problem--especially housing that is affordable, able to support aging in place, and meets the needs of older residents. This past year I became involved with the community's efforts on Age Friendly Lexington. I have a particular interest in helping bring awareness and education for planning for housing in later life. I aim to do this by helping individuals and families understanding resources that support aging in place, as well as alternative housing options that are lacking in Lexington.

Since 2006 the World Health Organization’s (WHO) age-friendly cities and communities program has provided international guidelines to help communities prepare for rapid population aging. While quality and availability of housing are identified as important components of the WHO’s age-friendly cities and community guidelines (WHO, 2007), there is little discussion within the aging literature of how cities such as Lexington can best go about developing and supporting community housing initiatives of older residents. The domains of housing (i.e., accessibility, affordability, safety) are important determinants of health and well-being. But the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine argue that there is not a one-size-fits-all model for providing reasonably priced and accessible housing for adults, particularly older adults (Alper et al., 2017). There is a great need to document the process and develop guidance for how communities address the need.

Lexington, Kentucky is a midsized city. With a total population of 318,000 people with 14% of the city's population over the age of 62. Like most urban cities in the U.S., Lexington has a housing problem. In 2014, Lexington Age Friendly collaborated with AARP to conduct the Livable Lexington Survey. Findings confirmed that older residents felt it was “extremely important” to live independently in their residence as they age (63.13%) and that affordable housing was “very important” to have within their community (83.7%). However, a major finding of the Fayette County Housing Demand Study has limited housing availability, particularly with respect to housing at a reasonable cost (Urban Partners, 2017). Safe housing was also valued at “very important” (94.13%). Data suggested that in the coming years, the greatest housing need will be for single-family owner-occupied homes for older (65+) households (22.5% of incremental housing demand), which the city is currently not equipped to provide (Urban Partners, 2017). While there are some resources for aging in place and long-term care housing in Lexington, most folks would prefer to live in their own home. However, homes are often not equipped for the needs of an older resident (i.e., accessible, proximity to needed services). Moreover, when asked to give Lexington a “grade” for housing availability for older adults, just over half of older residents’ responses scored the city of Lexington with a “C” or “D” grade (Urban Partners).

Initiatives have been started by Age Friendly Lexington and the grassroots group Reimagining Home to try to improve the alternative housing options for community members in later life.