HUD policy research takes closer look at senior housing instability, homelessness

The new policy research, which examines senior housing, was published in the Office of Policy Development and Research’s magazine

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R) took a closer look at housing instability and homelessness for the senior population in a new issue of the office’s magazine, PD&R Edge.

In a new article, the findings concluded that seniors are the fastest-growing cohort of people experiencing homelessness.

Researchers presented findings from new research on housing stability challenges faced by older adults in Massachusetts, as well as the effectiveness of certain programs and services in place to mitigate those challenges in content featured at an October event held by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies (JCHS).

Presenters included JCHS Research Associate Samara Scheckler, alongside Emily Cooper, chief housing officer for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs and a special advisor on housing at MassHealth, and LaTanya Wright, director of outreach at Hearth.

“Scheckler framed the conversation by presenting research that she and her JCHS colleagues have conducted on the prevalence of homelessness and housing insecurity among older adults in Massachusetts, the barriers and challenges these older adults must overcome, and the types of services they might need” the article explained.

“Older adults” for the research are defined as anyone aged 50 or older, examining ways that common aging issues, including memory loss, can exacerbate housing instability and homelessness, falls and other functional impairments.

“Scheckler reported that the 65 and older age group is the fastest growing among those experiencing homelessness,” the article said. “In 2020, one-third of the chronically homeless population was age 55 or older. Older adults are less likely to have earned income and are more likely than younger adults experiencing homelessness to rely on public benefit programs.”

Fixed incomes exacerbate housing affordability challenges for the senior cohort, researchers found. It also negatively impacts seniors’ ability to find accessible housing equipped for mobility or cognitive challenges.

“Aging also involves increasing vulnerabilities and risk factors, such as physical and cognitive disabilities, which are further compounded by the lack of long-term care services and healthcare access,” according to the article.

“Age intersects with other factors that increase the risk of housing insecurity, and older adults may rely more heavily on social policy and public programs to remain stably housed,” Scheckler explained during the event.

Despite a greater need to access social support programs, seniors face unique barriers to accessing such programs.

“For example, qualifying for Social Security disability insurance may take too long, and modifying a home for aging in place may be too expensive or prohibited for renters,” the article stated. “Shelters typically require people to be able to feed and bathe themselves — areas for which older adults might need help. Some services may be available only after a crisis occurs, limiting the potential for preventative approaches.”

Researchers identified a strong need to bolster loss mitigation options and increase social safety net access for senior Americans experiencing either housing insecurity or outright homelessness.

Addressing current shortfalls is essential for both current seniors facing them, as well as for the following generation of seniors who will age into these challenges and inherit them, Wright said.

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