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Aging in Place Becomes Increasingly Important During a Pandemic

Photo of an older woman

COVID-19’s higher risks for older adults and those living with underlying medical conditions makes their homes vital for reducing risk of exposure and quarantining if exposed. This is particularly important since conventional congregate living settings for older adults, such as nursing homes and assisted living facilities, have been significantly impacted by high transmission rates. While nursing home residents represent only 8% of the COVID-19 cases, they account for 40% of the deaths.

The growing emphasis on enabling seniors to age in place has become even more critical as older adults seek to limit face-to-face interactions during the pandemic. But while nine out of 10 seniors intend to age in place, housing affordability and accessibility present significant barriers.  Forty one percent of adults age 65-79 have a disability related to self-care, household activities or mobility, while 71% of people over 80 experience the same disabilities.  Very few homes, 3.5%, are accessible to those living in a wheelchair, and many more need some type of accessibility alterations.

Accessibility improvements often come at a significant cost to the homeowners, particularly those with lower incomes. Nearly 10 million households age 65 and over are already housing cost burdened, meaning they pay more than 30% of their income on housing, even without accessibility modification costs. When repairs are required, these homeowners may have to choose between paying for housing or other essentials and have been found to spend 31% and 21% less on health care and food, respectively, compared to same-aged households who are  not housing cost burdened.

The North Carolina Housing Finance Agency’s Urgent Repair Program (URP) pays for emergency repairs and accessibility modifications that can help the state’s most at-risk populations remain safely in their homes during the pandemic. The program is offered through local partners to eligible households that include one or more full-time household members with special needs, including seniors, people living with disabilities, veterans, or a child less than seven years old living in a home with lead hazards.  URP has helped 7,480 households modify their homes in the past decade. Of those households, 4,243 are elderly, 3,228 are living with a disability, and half earn less than 30% of the Area Median Income ($14,700 for a single person North Carolina household in 2020). Ensuring older adults can remain safely housed keeps them both physically and financially healthy. Learn more at Urgent Repair Program.