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How to make housing more accessible and affordable for older adults and people with disabilities

On July 21, 2023, Brookings Metro Senior Fellow Jenny Schuetz testified before the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging for a hearing titled Laying the Foundation: Accessible and Affordable Housing for Older Adults and People with Disabilities. 

Schuetz’s testimony addressed several aspects of housing accessibility and affordability, including: national and regional trends in housing supply; new construction and retrofits of existing homes; and roles for private capital and public investment.  

In her written testimony, Schuetz identified three policy recommendations: 

  • Congress should create financial incentives for local governments to revise their zoning in favor of allowing a wider range of structure types, and better integrate federal investments in housing, land use, and transportation. Local governments and regional planning agencies would also benefit from federally funded technical assistance and clearer guidance on what types of zoning reforms work best in different local housing markets—tasks that fall well within the scope and mission of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Accessible housing and the housing needs of people with disabilities is a serious omission in publicly available data and academic research. Federal agencies including HUD, HHS, and the Census Bureau should explore ways to address knowledge gaps and support high-quality policy-relevant research on these topics. 
  • Congress has several channels to relieve financial stress created by high housing costs. The most direct, straightforward way to help low-income older adults and people with disabilities afford safe, decent-quality housing is to give them money. Increasing funding for housing vouchers or making the Earned Income Tax Credit payable monthly instead of annually would be effective tools to support financial stability for low- and moderate-income households. Providing flexible support is particularly helpful for people whose largest expenses may fluctuate month to month, shifting between housing, health care, and supportive services. 
  • Congress and the Biden administration have already approved historic investments in infrastructure and the built environment through the bipartisan infrastructure law and the Inflation Reduction Act. Channeling some of this funding toward accessibility retrofits for homes and neighborhood-serving pedestrian infrastructure would substantially improve safety and well-being for older adults and people with disabilities. The cost of these investments is relatively modest compared to building out new energy transmission lines, and yet they are often overlooked by state and local agencies in favor of larger, more complex projects. 

To read Schuetz’s full testimony, click here. To watch the testimony video, click here.