In late May 2022, the Institute for Housing Studies at DePaul University brought together a broad range of Chicago area housing and community development stakeholders for a virtual convening on the evolving housing needs and economic conditions of older adults in the City of Chicago and suburban Cook County. Participants included affordable-housing advocates, the aging-in-place community, housing developers, community-based groups, and government agencies.
The convening was a unique opportunity for experts representing this diverse range of perspectives to share ideas and best practices for addressing the housing needs and challenges facing the region’s growing older adult population.
IHS framed the meeting around data from its recent report Housing Needs and Economic Conditions of Cook County’s Older Adults and insights from the Institute’s policy brief, Planning for the Housing Needs of an Aging Population. The brief draws on lessons IHS staff learned from conversations with advocates, researchers, community partners, and policymakers – the cornerstone of IHS’s applied research model and the starting point for each research report.
IHS’s report found that:
- Cook County is aging and the older adult population is more diverse. Among older adult households, the number of households headed by a person of color is increasing fastest.
- The City of Chicago and suburban Cook County are aging differently. In Chicago, older adult households are largely lower income. The city has seen an increase in very low-income Black and Hispanic older adult households, while the suburbs have seen a growing share of Asian older adult households with very low incomes.
- Older adult renters are rapidly increasing in Chicago. While older adult households primarily own their properties countywide, the share that rent their homes is growing rapidly in the city. Roughly 60 percent of that growth in Chicago is from Black and Hispanic renter households. Most older adult renter households in Chicago are cost-burdened, and Black and Hispanic older adult renter households have the highest levels of cost-burden.
- Older adult homeowners of color are more likely to have a mortgage. The vast majority of suburban older adults own their homes, and homeownership rates are high for all households regardless of the head of householder's race or ethnicity.
- The existing housing stock may present challenges to older adults who want to age in place. The largest increase in older adult renters in Chicago was seen in renters living in 2- to 4-unit properties, while the vast majority of older adult homeowners continue to live in single-family homes. Both types of properties may present challenges for aging in place.
After the data presentation, a panel of policy experts discussed their reactions to the findings and suggested possible avenues to address the implications of these housing trends. Panelists represented a range of perspectives from community-based groups Northwest Center and Communities United to citywide and regional organizations Neighborhood Housing Services and the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus.
Each provided their respective organization’s insights and approaches to the issues, but common themes emerged across the panel discussion. All agreed that the data highlighted a looming crisis in Cook County that they had seen on the ground, as the older adult population continues to grow and communities remain ill-prepared to adequately and equitably house them. Panelists discussed the challenges facing older adult renters and homeowners including affordability pressures related to rising housing costs such as property taxes, utilities, and insurance; accessibility issues; the need for estate planning; and a lack of financial resources to support home modifications and maintenance. Watch a video of the panel discussion below or click here.
After the panel discussion, three dozen community-organization representatives and policy experts joined virtual breakout rooms and shared their perspectives on key housing issues facing older adults and discussed strategies for solutions and next steps. Watch a video of the breakout room report back and closing remarks below or click here.
A sampling of ideas shared include:
- Increasing protections for 2- to 4-unit buildings, which make up a large share of affordable housing in the city and house a growing share of older adult renters in the City of Chicago;
- Creating more incentives to build affordable housing for older adults as well as incentives for building owners to modify existing units to better serve older adult needs;
- Exploring rent control and other strategies as a means to protect vulnerable senior renters from rising rents and displacement;
- Expanding the Housing Choice Voucher program to better accommodate the growing need to affordably house older adult renters;
- Making additional resources available for homeowners to modify and improve their homes to facilitate aging in place;
- Reconsidering how property taxes are structured to minimize the pressures of rising housing costs and keep fixed-income seniors in their homes;
- Offering more services for estate planning to ensure that housing wealth stays in the family or community;
- Making efforts to diversify the housing stock in suburban municipalities where older adults may have limited options to age in their community.
At the close of the meeting, there was a shared interest in wanting to build on the positive momentum from these discussions and develop strategies to raise awareness of older adult housing needs among public agencies. In July, a working group met to identify potential priority issues for ongoing advocacy.
IHS’s work on this topic is funded by the RRF Foundation for Aging, and the Institute is excited to have received continued funding from the Foundation to support ongoing applied research and technical assistance to groups working on issues related to housing and aging.
To view a copy of the data presented, click here. To learn more about the issue, click here to read IHS's report on the Housing Needs and Economic Conditions of Cook County's Older Adults and click here to read IHS's policy brief. To keep up to date on IHS's research, sign up for email alerts here.