A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Jeff Rubin: Affordable housing issues demand creative thinking and action

Some 40 million American households are paying more than a third of their incomes on rent, according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal.

This is particularly disconcerting given that the number had been trending downward in recent years. It infers a continuing rental affordability crisis due in no small part to a deepening income inequality across the U.S. Add to that a growing shortage in appropriate housing to meet the needs of our aging population (by 2030, one in every five Americans will be 65 or older), and it’s clear that the time for communities to address affordable and alternative strategies is now.

A 2014 Harvard study, sponsored by the AARP Foundation, bears this out. Among their findings, the report cites that many older people are skimping on other necessities in order to keep themselves housed. In fact, older adults with the highest housing cost burden spend 40 percent less on food than their counterparts in more affordable housing. The report further contends that more and more people will find themselves in housing that no longer fits their requirements for safe and independent living.

This predicament is compounded by the lack of adequate housing stock available in many communities today. Answers may be found in a community’s strategic plans, along with steps that can be taken to address it. While comprehensive and proactive thinking are required, it may also be a question of the will of the electorate to enforce an adherence to the goals and objectives already expressed in the plan.

An unintended impact of unaffordable housing is isolation. As further cited in the Harvard study, the lack of mobility, along with losing the ability to drive leaves many personal and physical needs unmet because of too few transportation options or none at all.

Another issue of concern in the planning of housing options is the lack of integration between housing and healthcare, which increases costs and puts the independence of older people further at risk. Home and community based care allows older adults with healthcare needs to avoid expensive stays in long term facilities and readmissions into hospitals.

Unfortunately, in Kentucky as in much of America’s healthcare infrastructure, too much emphasis is currently being placed on institutional care, as opposed to providing in home and community based options to many of the most vulnerable older adults.

Whether young or old, it is important for policymakers to understand that safe, adequate, and affordable housing is not just shelter but also an investment in good health. That statement is supported by a research article that appeared in an April 2015 Center for Housing Policy Insights publication. Entitled The Impacts of Affordable Housing on Health, the research explored ten pathways through which affordable housing influences the health of people of all ages.

Among the findings cited for improving overall health, the creation of more affordable housing can help individuals and families gain a greater sense of stability, frees up personal resources for other essential needs, improves physical and mental well being, affords a safer living environment, and creates an efficient platform for health care delivery. Well constructed, well maintained, and more efficient affordable housing further reduces health problems associated with poor quality housing. By linking it to supportive services, it further enables older adults and others with mobility limitations to remain independent and in their own homes longer.

It just makes good sense. If we want our communities to thrive in the long run, we need to make sure they offer affordable housing options for everyone now. Organizations like the Kentucky Housing Corporation (KHC) www.kyhousing.org and the National Board of Realtors www.realtor.org are doing just that.

A national advocacy group for realtors and consumers, NAR is working with national partners like HUD www.HUD.org, Enterprise Community Partners www.enterprisecommunity.com, NeighborWorks America www.neighborworks.org, and their state and local realtors to address homelessness and housing insecurity.

In response to this growing crisis, NAR recently concluded its first “Housing For All” Symposium in Washington, D.C.

They are not alone in calling for action. Since 1972, the Kentucky Housing Corporation has been investing in affordable housing solutions by offering an array of programs and services intended to “develop, preserve, and sustain affordable housing throughout the state.” Working in conjunction with federal, state, and local partners, they offer assistance for home owners and renters alike. Among their many services, they administer low income housing tax credits, offer homeownership education and counseling, assist with housing rehabilitation and other necessary repairs, and provide specialized housing programs for the homeless, those with special needs, and substance abuse recovery populations.

Today for many of us however, there are options as varied in design and thinking as one can imagine. They run the gamut from odd (pallet homes) to ridiculous (tree houses), and encompass terms like “cohousing, house sharing, housing cooperatives, niche retirement communities and virtual villages, mother-in-law suites,” and more. They may further include changing the concept of how to purchase a home, such as community land trusts and co-ownerships, and with whom we ultimately choose to live (intergenerational and family communities).

One thing’s for certain. Creating a more livable community is not someone else’s concern: it’s everyone’s concern.


Jeff Rubin is an advocate and adviser on community and aging issues, having spent over 20 years as a director and facilitator of community service programs at the local, state and national levels. An advocate for “Age-friendly” and “Livable” communities, Mr. Rubin is currently working to advance these initiatives statewide in Kentucky and invites your comments, involvement, and support. He can be reached at Jeffrubin@windstream.net.

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