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Housing - Independent Housing

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Private sector housing. Most independent older persons reside in private sector homes or apartments. Over three-quarters (77 percent) of older adults own their own home. While rates of home ownership decrease with advancing age, 67 percent of adults over age eighty-five still own their own homes. Certain groups, however, have lower rates of home ownership (HUD). For example, home ownership rates are highest for whites and lowest for black (64 percent) and Hispanic households (57 percent) (Naifeh). Older renters differ from homeowners in that they have somewhat lower incomes, have lived in their units for relatively shorter periods of time, and occupy housing in somewhat worse condition.

Accessory units. Accessory units and elder cottage housing opportunity (ECHO) housing (i.e., granny flats), are private housing arrangements in or adjacent to existing single-family homes. These units are complete, self-contained units, usually with a separate entrance. Older adults who are frail and need to be close to their children or other family members can benefit from this option. Another possibility is that older homeowners can rent these units to younger persons at below market rent in return for certain services, such as shopping and meal preparation. Homeowners may also benefit from this situation because it provides an extra source of income to help with living expenses. Zoning in communities designed for single-family housing generally prohibits accessory apartments or ECHO housing, so a special use permit may be needed. Such impediments have restricted the growth of this option.

Shared housing. Shared housing is an arrangement in which two or more unrelated people share a house or apartment. Each person usually has his or her own sleeping quarters, and the rest of the house is shared. Surveys suggest that 2.5 percent of older adult households have at least one nonrelative living in their home, and almost 20 percent of older adults would consider living with someone who was not a family member or a friend. This living situation may occur naturally when individuals decide to form a household, through matches facilitated by an agency, and in small group homes operated by nonprofit or private organizations. In certain cases, agency-sponsored shared housing in small group homes may include services such as meal preparation, housekeeping, and shopping.

However, there are problems and considerations that arise in shared housing, especially in small group homes. Planning and zoning commissions may categorize shared housing with residential care homes, nursing homes, and other types of homes for older adults, all of which are excluded from residential areas zoned for single-family housing. A second problem is that elderly living in shared housing situations who receive food stamp benefits or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) may lose a portion of their benefits or be declared ineligible altogether. Nevertheless, shared housing can provide a source of additional income, reduce housing costs, and provide social, emotional, and physical support.

Government-assisted housing. Since 1959 the federal government has played a major role in increasing the housing supply for low-income older persons through financing housing for the elderly and reducing rents through tenant subsidy programs. 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 half a million elderly reside, primarily in special housing for the elderly. Section 202 housing, initially authorized under the 1959 Housing Act to serve moderate-income older persons, has provided the funds for nonprofit sponsors to develop about 325,000 units in which about 387,000 tenants live. Sections 515 and 516 of the Housing Act of 1949 provide housing assistance to rural residents and farm laborers through tenant subsidies.

In addition, older persons live in a variety of housing developed through other federal programs (e.g., Section 236 of National Housing Act of 1968, Section 8 new construction), that have reduced the interest rate on loans for developers. Such programs have generally produced shallower subsidies than public housing. In order to make these programs affordable by low-income persons, many residents receive Section 8 rental certificates or vouchers, which reduce housing expenses to 30 percent of income and can be used to rent units in the private sector.

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