Aging in Place, Housing and the Law

“Aging in place” refers to the desire of older people to stay in their own homes and communities in spite of encroaching infirmities, and it is an increasingly important aspect of public policy. This movement has gained impetus from the US Supreme Court’s decision in Olmstead v. L.C., which requires states to make community-integrated support programs more widely available for persons with disabilities. The aging in place movement, however, is hindered by the general unavailability of accessible and supportive housing. Legislation, such as the Fair Housing Amendments Act, which applies only to multi-unit housing, has been the subject of weak implementation and homebuilders have generally resisted its extension to single family housing. In order to age in place, older people often have to modify their environment to accommodate their changing abilities. The challenges of finding age-friendly housing in their communities or of retrofitting existing homes, can present frail older people with an all-or-nothing decision. This acts to funnel them towards institutional settings, such as nursing homes, in spite of their contrary desires. To make aging in place a reality, new policies are needed to provide help modifying existing housing, mandate the creation of housing based on principles of universal design, and provide a range of housing types in communities