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Allocating resources to address housing needs among various household types including older adults and families with children
Low-income families with children, low-income older adults, and younger low-income adults all need affordable housing. Funding and other resources are inevitably limited, so how should cities, towns, and counties approach the process of balancing investments to meet the housing needs of different age groups? What other demographic groups should be included in this balancing process?
- Consider specific local populations in balancing needs.
- Housing needs differ for different types of households.
- Different populations are better served by market-rate developers and affordable rental housing programs than others.
- Different populations have needs for specific types of housing.
- Housing needs and appropriate policies differ for younger and older low-income homeowners.
Consider specific local populations in balancing needs
Housing needs differ for different types of households
Different populations are better served by market-rate developers or affordable rental housing programs
Different populations have needs for specific types of housing
Some of the differences between the housing needs of different types of households are readily apparent. Families with children typically need larger units, for example, than either senior households or single renters. But there are other differences as well. Senior households often need housing with accessibility features to prevent falls to help them stay independent longer; others are looking for housing within a community of other older adults that acts as a support network. These types of housing may be more likely found in developments that are set aside for seniors than in units that can be obtained using a housing voucher, for example. In comparison, families with children may benefit from housing vouchers that allow them to select privately owned units in a wide range of neighborhoods, including resource-rich areas.
Likewise, the best locations for housing may differ by household type. Senior households may benefit most from housing in areas close to medical providers, for example, while families with children benefit from housing in areas with quality schools.
Even within household types, different types of housing may be needed. The needs of frail seniors, for example, may be quite different than the needs of younger seniors. To the extent that cities and counties decide to focus on older adults, one approach to consider is turning some current senior housing developments into housing for frail seniors that includes supportive services.
In some local jurisdictions, seniors or other single- or two-person households occupy many of the affordable housing units designed to house larger households, reducing the number of units available for families with children. These cities, towns, and counties may benefit from experimenting with “seniors to family” conversion programs, encouraging senior households occupying units in dedicated affordable housing developments large enough for families to move into senior housing, freeing up space in the units with more bedrooms.
Housing needs and appropriate policies differ for younger and older low-income homeowners
 The discussion of worst-case housing needs is based on data reported in Watson, Nicole Elsasser, Barry L. Steffen, Marge Martin, and David A. Vandenbroucke, “Worst Case Housing Needs: 2017 Report to Congress,” U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Policy Development and Research. August 2017.
 Although, as shown in the text box, worst-case needs can result from severely inadequate living conditions, high rents in proportion to renters’ incomes are by far the most frequent cause of worst-case needs.
 Note that units subsidized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Housing Service are not included, unless they also receive subsidies referenced above. Other programs such as Indian Housing, HOME and Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) are also excluded.
 One study found that 41 percent of PHAs have a preference for older adults compared with 25 percent of PHAs with a preference for working families. Preferences for people with disabilities are the most common, with 47 percent of PHAs. Name Redacted, “The Use of Discretionary Authority in the Housing Choice Voucher Program: A CRS Study,” R42481, Congressional Research Service, April 11, 2012.
 Since families with children are a protected class under the Fair Housing Act, however, it would raise fair housing concerns for cities to use this fact as a reason to focus less on housing for families with children.
 For a summary of review of the relevant literature, see Cunningham, Mary, Robin Harwood, and Sam Hall, “Residential Instability and the McKinney-Vento Homeless Children and Education Program: What We Know, Plus Gaps in Research,” May 2010.
 Chetty, Raj, Nathaniel Hendren, and Lawrence F. Katz, “The Effects of Exposure to Better Neighborhoods on Children: New Evidence from the Moving to Opportunity Experiment,” Harvard University and NBER. August 2015.
 Carroll, Stephen J. and Emre Erkut, “The Benefits to Taxpayers from Increases in Students’Educational Attainment,” Rand Education. 2009.
 In the run-up to the Great Recession, many homeowners were also victimized by predatory lending and other unfair lending practices. Federal policy has prohibited many of these practices, but it will be important to remain vigilant in the event such practices return.