Building for the Future: Preparing for the Aging Onslaught

Renovating and retrofitting are going to increase in popularity, and new homes should be built with the elderly in mind, according to Henry Cisneros, former Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary and executive chairman of investment firm CityView, in an interview with Builder.

With America’s older population segments set to double and even triple, it’s important for builders to be aware of “the basic physical realities than an aging population implies,” Cisnero said in the interview, adding that current designs don’t match physical capabilities.

On what housing should look like, and where it should be: Physical dimensions of current housing structures that don’t allow for aging in place can be fixed through renovations or retrofits.

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“We have to think hard about retrofitting existing housing—there’s going to be a lively industry of retrofitting and renovation,” he said. “As new homes are built, they need to be with the elderly in mind. That’s different from the approach we’ve used in the past: communities exclusively for aging, with a limited number of houses for aging persons.”

What’s going to have to happen, he said, is that housing must be designed with older people in mind, with the assumption that people will remain in their homes for a long time. That could look like smaller homes that are one story and have features meant to facilitate aging in place.

Cisneros also emphasized the need for housing to be built to enable people to remain not just in their homes, but in their communities as well: in walkable locations that are close to amenities such as grocery stores, pharmacies, doctors’ offices, and village centers, along with being transit-acessible—similar to a recent AARP push toward mixed-use communities with plenty of public transit options. 

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“Where we locate new communities is crucial,” he said, adding that suburbs are geared toward drivers. “When we start thinking about village centers, we need a different model. Taking out strip malls and big-box stores and replacing them with housing is a real option.” 

On barriers to aging in place: “The biggest barrier to aging in place today is financial,” said Cisneros in the interview. “People are really worried about being able to stay in the house because they haven’t paid it off, or can’t pay the taxes, they can’t afford a new house or apartment.”

On what builders should expect: The most surprising aspect about designing and building for aging in place might be the sheer volume of what’s going to be needed, Cisneros said in the interview. “The scale of this is massive… [it’s] going to be huge, and it will be different qualitatively,” he said. “What does it mean for a society to have 19 million people who are 85 years of age or older, a good number of whom are strong enough, healthy enough, fit enough, self-reliant enough to live on their own? We’re not even close to providing the kind of housing that can address that. That’s a big number.”

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Read the full interview with Henry Cisneros at Builder Online.

Written by Alyssa Gerace

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