Meeting Accessibility Needs of New Jersey’s Aging Vulnerable Population

How Do We Address the Physical Challenges of Older Low-Income People

As New Jersey’s vulnerable, disabled and homeless and at-risk of homelessness population ages, how do we ensure that subsidized and affordable housing is accessible? 

Older residents, including those with disabilities, often need ramps to make the exterior of their housing accessible and accommodations in the kitchen and bathroom to make that area a safe and secure space. 

Do we update and renovate existing subsidized housing so that older low-income indivdiuals can remain in the housing?  Or do we build and create new accessible subsidized housing and possibly face having to move indivdiuals from affordable housing where they have lived for years and have a sense of community?

When we look at the aging population in need of subsidized and affordable housing, including most likely accessible housing, NJCounts 2019 data gives us a subset of that population with snapshot of the aging population experiencing homelessness.  On the evening of January 23, 2019, NJCounts, the statewide point-in-time count of the homeless found 1,459 individuals ages 55-64 and 336 individuals ages 65 and over.  We will get an update on these numbers with the results of NJCounts 2020 which takes place on January 29, 2020.

Please keep in mind that these numbers are just a snapshot of the aging population that is most at risk.  These NJCounts numbers do not include those living at risk of homelessness who will need accessible housing in the imminent future or those living in subsidized and affordable housing that is not accessible. 

Can low-income individuals who are making ends meet in their current housing but cannot afford to pay for accessibility modifications as they age be at risk of homelessness?  Is assisting them in moving into a more accessible but more costly nursing home environment before they really need that level of care the solution? 

Could some relatively inexpensive modifications allow vulnerable and low-income individuals to remain living independently in their own home?  How will we in New Jersey provide housing for all older adults that will feature accessible features?

As we think about these issues, the new report from the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University is an excellent resource.  Accessibility Features for Older Households in Subsidized Housing examines some of the issues raised in the questions above. 

The report asks and addresses the key questions:’

  • What physical challenges do older subsidized renters face?
  • What difficulties do they experience with their housing environment?
  • Are subsidized units more equipped with accessibility features than units without rent assistance?

While the report focuses primarily on subsidized housing funded through the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, the conclusions it draws are transferable to affordable and subsidized housing funded through other funding streams.

The report concludes that “As the population ages, we will ultimately need more housing with accessibility features. The lowest-income older adult renters are both the most vulnerable and the least likely to have the resources to modify their housing. Going forward, expanding the affordable, accessible rental stock in a range of neighborhoods should be a planning and policy priority.”