January 14, 2020

Accessibility Features for Older Households in Subsidized Housing

Whitney Airgood-Obrycki, Jennifer Molinsky

As the overall population ages, the number of very low-income older adult households that qualify for HUD housing assistance is rising rapidly. Older adults tend to stay in subsidized housing longer than younger families. As a result, older adults make up a growing share of HUD-subsidized renter households. In the last ten years alone, the share of older adults in HUD-subsidized housing has risen five percentage points, and older adult households now make up over a third of all subsidized renters. In this paper, we examine whether the subsidized housing stock is suitable for aging in place. We ask: What physical challenges do older subsidized renters face? What difficulties do they experience with their housing environment? And, are subsidized units more equipped with accessibility features than units without rent assistance?

To answer these questions, we used the 2011 American Housing Survey, the last vintage of this survey to include detailed questions about housing accessibility and household mobility difficulties. We constructed a comparison group of eligible, unsubsidized renters making up to 30 percent of area median income. We used chi-square statistics, logistic regression modeling, and propensity score matching to identify differences in housing accessibility and mobility difficulties between subsidized and unsubsidized, eligible older adults. We also compare households receiving project-based subsidies to those receiving tenant-based vouchers.

The findings confirm that older subsidized renters have many vulnerabilities, but rental housing assistance provides more livable housing in terms of accessibility than private-market rentals. We also find that renters receiving project-based rental assistance typically have more accessibility features than those receiving tenant-based assistance, but the differences are not statistically significant. Ultimately, our results highlight the benefit of subsidized housing but also point to unmet needs. Livable and wheelchair accessible units are lacking for older, extremely low-income renters, whether they receive a subsidy or not. While many units are potentially modifiable, only a small share have basic accessibility features that make them currently livable for older adults.

Category: Working Papers

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