by Maggie Lyons, May 2017
The availability of affordable and accessible housing and transportation options for the older adult population in the United States is a critical matter for planners and policymakers. This growing segment of the population, more and more commonly referred to as a “Silver Tsunami”, has needs that must be properly planned for if seniors are to remain active, healthy, and productive—all considered key components of aging successfully. The alternative in which seniors cannot easily access affordable housing, transportation, healthy food, medical care, recreation, and social activities is likely to result in financial and medical difficulties, degrading the quality of life for the individual and ultimately putting a strain on all levels of government resources.
Within the current Denver region housing market, there is a chronic and acute shortage of affordable age-restrictive housing, particularly proximal to existing and planned high-capacity transit facilities. Despite the need for increased housing of this type and the value of strategically placing such housing near transit sites, there is seemingly a complacency or inability among key players and developers to supply this housing product.
There are many unanswered questions across the nation and within our own City that many leaders and residents, young and old, are grasping for answers to: How do we define the terms “senior” and “affordable”? What are the current status, strengths and challenges to increasing senior housing options in the Denver region? What roles can the public and private sectors can play in increasing affordable, mobility-minded senior housing?
As with the term “senior”, using the blanket term “senior housing” is ambiguous, as the term is inclusive of numerous product types. The housing market is responding to the new and continuing demand of the various senior segments, and the creation of niche markets rather than one single market for senior housing developments. While no silver bullet solution exists that will serve all, the following best practices may be a place to start in addressing this problem and answering the critical questions within the Denver region:
- Complete a Senior Housing Inventory and Assessment.
- Complete a local senior resource inventory and assessment.
- Revisit, modify and update policies and zoning codes.
- Consider incentivizing the increase of Universal Design standards and accessibility measures in all new construction, even non age-restrictive units.
- Consider restructuring and combining local housing and human services departments.
- Address the need for the increase of affordable senior housing, specifically, through the use of creative funding.
- Establish target sites for the development and/or preservation of various types of age-restrictive and affordable senior housing.
- Assist groups of seniors in developing creative housing solutions.
- Strengthen support around local home modification assistance programs.
- Form partnerships between developers and service and health providers.
- Advocate for construction defects litigation amendments to be passed.
- Respond to NIMBYism of senior housing in the community through the development of an educational toolkit for local governments and organizations.
- Educate seniors on financial strategies and savings opportunities to prepare for and support aging successfully.
Cities and regions across the United States are facing a critical challenge—how to meet and coordinate demands for a growing and changing senior population in housing, mobility and services. Developers, planners, local governments, service providers and communities have many opportunities to collaborate on a range of solutions and starts with coordination and communication in order to remove established barriers to senior housing and mobility, as well as to continue to build upon identified strengths and opportunities. Individual communities and larger regions can make efforts to research, assess, and implement national best practices, as well as to pioneer creative and innovative solutions, as some communities in the Denver region are already doing. The challenge of senior housing and mobility will not be solved with one “silver bullet” solution. Instead, through cooperation and organization between many different stakeholders, a variety of solutions can be defined and pursued for the Denver region.