Report Examines Housing Accessibility for Older Adults with Extremely Low-Incomes

A report from the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University (JCHS), Accessibility Features for Older Households in Subsidized Housing, examines the accessibility of the federally subsidized housing stock for older adults with the lowest incomes. The report finds that older adults in HUD subsidized housing are more likely to have mobility impairments than their peers who are eligible for but not residing in subsidized housing. The homes of older adults receiving HUD subsidies tend to be more accessible than their unsubsidized peers. But there is still a significant shortfall of rental units accessible for the lowest-income older adults.

The report’s authors, Whitney Airgood-Obrycki and Jennifer Molinsky, used the 2011 American Housing Survey to create two sample groups for analysis. One sample contained HUD-assisted households with at least one member 62 or older and the other sample was of extremely low-income (ELI - incomes less than 30% of the area median income) renter households with at least one older adult and no HUD subsidies.

Of the households in the HUD-assisted sample, 60% had at least one adult with a disability, but only 16% resided in units accessible to people with moderate mobility difficulties. The authors defined housing as accessible to people with moderate mobility difficulties if it included at least: a no-step building entrance, an entry-level accessible bathroom with grab bars and bedroom (or elevator), and no steps between rooms (or the presence of grab bars along steps). Of eligible households with an older adult without HUD assistance, 46% had at least one adult with a disability, but just 6% resided in a moderately accessible unit. Older subsidized renters tended to have significantly more mobility difficulties than their unsubsidized counterparts. Thirteen percent of the subsidized households with older adults, for example, reported a member using a wheelchair or scooter compared to 9% of similar unsubsidized households.

Accessibility varied by subsidy type. Eighteen percent of households with older adults that received a project-based subsidy, including Section 8 project-based rental assistance, public housing, or Section 202, resided in an accessible unit compared to fewer than 11% of voucher households with an older adult.

The lack of accessible rental housing remains a significant challenge for older adults both with and without access to housing subsidies. At the same time, 35% of older, subsidized renters and 19% of eligible but unassisted older renters reside in units that could be modified for accessibility. The authors recommend funding to assist older ELI renters with accessibility modifications to their homes and revisions to state Qualified Allocation Plans to prioritize Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) allocations for projects incorporating accessibility features.

Accessibility Features for Older Households in Subsidized Housing is at: