Research Report Meeting the Challenge: Serving Older Adults and People with Disabilities in Public Housing
Alisha Sanders, Susan J. Popkin, Diane K. Levy, Olivia Fiol, Abby Boshart, Mica O'Brien
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Public housing serves a critical role in the nation’s rental market, providing stable housing for households with extremely low incomes. This role has become increasingly important as the shortage of affordable housing grows and people are priced out of the housing market. In addition, older adults and people with disabilities—who may need extra services and support to remain in their homes—represent a growing share of public housing residents. In 2021, older adults accounted for more than 1 in 3 household members, and people with disabilities represented 1 in 4 household members. Given the overall aging of the US population and sharp increase in the number of people with disabilities because of the pandemic, these shares will continue to grow.

As the public housing population shifts, housing agencies will need to serve as the central connecting point for residents to access resources and support. But agencies face many barriers to delivering critical services, including lack of federal and state funding, low staff capacity, and limited resources.

To better understand these challenges, we conducted virtual site visits with staff and residents at the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority, Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh, Denver Housing Authority, Westbrook Housing Authority in Maine, and Housing Authority of Kansas City in Missouri. In this report, we outline the demographic characteristics of older adults and people with disabilities in public housing, analyze innovative service models that can help public housing authorities overcome challenges to providing care, explore the different types of services relevant to these populations, and highlight agencies excelling in serving older adults and people with disabilities.

Key takeaways

  • Older adult residents and residents with disabilities have diverse social, health, and functional circumstances.
  • Service coordinators provide critical support, but housing authorities do not receive adequate funding for the role.
  • Partnerships are key to helping address residents’ diverse needs.
  • Even with multiple partnerships, housing authorities still experience gaps in services.
  • Trust is key to engaging residents in services and programming.

Implications for research, policy, and practice

  • Provide public housing authorities with the resources they need to help address residents’ service and support needs.
  • Facilitate collaboration with health entities.
  • Build opportunities to better support residents’ behavioral health needs.
  • Explore service delivery mechanisms that provide efficient and flexible care to residents in need of long-term services and supports.
Research Areas Aging and retirement Health and health care
Tags Housing affordability Disability and long-term care Fair housing and housing discrimination
Policy Centers Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center
Research Methods Data analysis Data collection
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