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Living Arrangements - Types Of Living Arrangements

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Various housing choices are available for independent, semi-independent, and dependent older adults. These categories provide rough approximations of the ability of housing types to support older persons with differing functional abilities.

Housing choices for independent older persons. In the United States, most independent older persons with few or no problems related to self-care, activities of daily living (ADLs), or instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs) reside in conventional homes or apartments. Those who choose this living arrangement tend to be younger, married, have a spouse present, have children living in the home or nearby, and own their own home.

Over three-quarters (77 percent) of older adults in the United States own their own homes. While rates of home ownership decrease with advancing age, 67 percent of older adults over age eighty-five still own their own homes. Nationally, more than 5 million elderly households rent their housing. In comparison to owners, renters tend to have lower incomes and to be women or minorities who live alone.

In government-subsidized housing, the federal government provides housing for low-income older persons by financing housing for the elderly and providing rent subsidies. Approximately 1.7 million older persons live in federally subsidized housing nationwide. The largest program serving low-income older persons is public housing, in which approximately 500,000 elderly reside, primarily in special housing for the elderly. Another program benefiting older adults is Section 202 housing, which has provided funds for non-profit sponsors to develop about 325,000 units in which over 387,000 tenants live (as of 2001).

Accessory apartments, created within single-family homes, are complete living units, including a private kitchen and bath. Elder cottage housing opportunities (ECHO) provide private housing arrangements adjacent to single-family housing. These two options can encourage economic and personal support between households, while at the same time allowing privacy. The number of older adults living in these types of housing is unknown, but is generally considered small. The growth of these options has been very slow, partly due to consumer reluctance, the physical difficulty of placing units in areas such as inner cities and inner suburbs, and restrictive zoning codes.

Retirement communities are designed for persons sixty years of age or older and provide a variety of social and recreational opportunities. While retirement communities exist in Australia, Japan, and Europe, they are more prevalent in the United States (Liebig). These communities target independent older adults and generally provide a minimum of supportive services. It is estimated that 7 percent of seniors in the United States live in this type of housing. These communities tend to be concentrated in metropolitan areas and in the southeast and western regions of the United States. The likelihood of moving to these types of communities decreases if there is an adult child available who lives less than an hour away. One study found that healthy, non-Hispanic white individuals tend to favor this living arrangement.

Another study, however, found that older adults with moderate disability are also attracted to retirement communities. The probability of moving to a retirement community increases as one's degree of difficulty performing IADLs (meal preparation, shopping, using the telephone, managing money, doing housework) changes from mild to moderate, but declines as such disabilities become severe. Although services are not provided by these communities, older adults may view this move as an opportunity to live among other older adults who can provide informal support. Silverstein and Zablotsky suggest that one move can serve two different needs: the desire for amenities and the need for support with daily tasks.

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