Winter 1988 // Volume 26 // Number 4 // Feature Articles // 4FEA2

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Patricia B. Pollak
Associate Professor
Department of Economics and Housing
Cornell University, Ithaca, New York

Denise A. DiGregorio
formerly Project Coordinator for the "Housing Options for Seniors Today" project
Ithaca, New York

The demographics of an aging society have focused attention on the many needs of older Americans - including housing. While many seniors are physically able to remain in the homes and neighborhoods they have lived in for many years, those with limited retirement income often have difficulty coping with rising housing expenses. Research has shown that many older people don't want to move despite problems posed by their situation.1 Those who do move may have limited options. Rural communities often have few, if any, apartments. In urban areas, there are often long waiting lists for affordable housing, especially for senior citizens. Furthermore, there has been little new construction of senior citizen housing in the past few years, and little is projected for the near future.

Concern for the housing situation of our nation's older population has made us realize that nursing homes and new construction don't and won't meet the future needs of the majority of older Americans. As a result, public and private interest in developing a variety of new alternatives to enable our older population to "age-in-place" has grown in recent years. Table 1 shows these housing alternatives: match-up home sharing, shared-living residences, accessory apartments, and elder cottages.

Unfortunately, many seniors are unaware of these options and believe their only choices are to remain alone in a home that's too large or to move to a nursing home. Today, however, more people have the opportunity to learn about a variety of alternatives that communities across the country are developing.

Table 1. The housing options.

Match-up home sharing - a way for two or three unrelated people to share a home and living expenses. A "home-provider" and a "home-seeker" match themselves or are matched together through a community sponsored matching program.

Shared-living residence - a house where a group of unrelated people live together as a single household or "family." Each resident may have a private bedroom, but meals, chores, and sometimes the management of the house are shared.

Accessory apartment - a separate, small, complete living unit that's built onto or into an existing single-family house.

Elder cottage - a small, free-standing home that is installed temporarily on the property of an existing residence. It's intended for use by an older relative.

HOST Program

In New York State, local Cooperative Extension Associations and county Offices for the Aging (Area Agencies on Aging) cooperate to inform older adults about these innovative housing options. Cornell Cooperative Extension developed Housing Options for Seniors Today (HOST) with initial funding from a grant from the Administration on Aging (AoA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. As a joint effort with the New York State Office for the Aging and the county counterparts of both organizations, the program exemplifies a unique and mutually beneficial partnership between education and government.

HOST's main purpose is to provide information to older consumers, their families, and advocates about the alternatives that are or could be available to them. It has been designed to use the skills of staff in both the aging and Extension networks at both the state and local levels. The program combines the education function of Cooperative Extension with advocacy, and information and referral responsibilities of the Area Agencies on Aging. The main development and administrative functions of the project are the responsibility of state level staff at Cornell University and the New York State Office for the Aging. Locally, skilled professional teams of Cooperative Extension agents and area agency personnel collaborate to tailor and deliver the consumer education program.

In the 18 counties participating in the initial 17-month demonstration program, the professional teams briefed local officials, human service providers, 1,515 community leaders, and other interested professionals through professional update meetings. The local teams also recruited, trained, supervised, and supported 148 volunteer housing workshop leaders.

Training for the professional staff teams and the volunteers in the counties included information about the development and current status of each housing option, the benefits and drawbacks of each, and the impact on an individual's eligibility for public benefits programs. Barriers to wider use of the options that may be posed by local zoning and land-use regulations also were discussed.

The primary goal of these efforts is for all seniors (as well as their families and advocates) to have the information necessary to make informed, considered, careful housing choices that are in their own best interest.

HOST Materials

Volunteers were trained by the local professional teams to make use of the materials developed for HOST (see Table 2) and to conduct the packaged program for the public. The professional staff arranged schedules, sites, and publicity, and provided support and back-up for the volunteer workshop leaders.

In each county, volunteers conducted two types of programs: (1) overview sessions and (2) small group workshops. The overview is a 30-minute, single session to introduce various housing options to large audiences through the use of a slide/cassette tape presentation. The small group workshop series consists of (up to) four, two-hour sessions covering: (1) the consumer's current housing situation, (2) shared housing, (3) secondary units, and (4) other housing programs and resources available in the community. During the small group workshops, interested older adults, their families, and others use the HOST Workbook for Older Consumers to explore the pros and cons of each option.

During its demonstration phase, the HOST program, through its 36 affiliated staff in 18 counties, trained 148 volunteer workshop leaders. A total of 7,500 people attended the consumer sessions to learn about the new options, and an additional 1,500 professionals attended professional updates. A modest estimate of 5-7 million people have learned about options through media outreach. T