Aging with Dignity: Housing Choices for Rhode Island’s Older Population

Posted on 05/13/24

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By Catherine Taylor, AARP Rhode Island State Director
Published in th Providence Journal, May 11,2024 

Across the U.S., housing shortages are impacting millions of Americans. From coast to coast, residents are facing high interest rates and low housing supply – making it nearly impossible to find affordable housing. Rhode Island is no exception. It is estimated that residents of the Ocean State are facing a staggering 24,000-unit affordable housing shortage with no end in sight. 

In fact, the latest AARP LTSS (Long-Term Supports and Services) Scorecard ranked Rhode Island 51st in the nation – dead last when it comes to housing availability for older adults. 

From existing homeowners to first-time buyers, the lack of economical housing can be felt by all. However, older Rhode Islanders experience the challenge in unique ways. Older residents overwhelmingly want to live independently as they age. Indeed, 96% of Rhode Islanders responding to AARP’s recent Vital Voices Survey of adults 45 and older indicated that staying in their homes as they age is important. They want to remain in the place where they have established roots, raised families and contributed to the local economy. 

But as their needs change, staying in the family home may not be ideal. It may be too big or require too much upkeep and maintenance. However, without reasonable housing choices, too many older Rhode Islanders are forced to stay where they are, becoming house rich and cash poor. If the home is not accessible, some may be forced into more costly and less desirable nursing home care. 

As the older adult population rapidly increases, the need for more economical and accessible housing choices will soar. Currently, 40 million Americans are over the age of 65. That number is expected to double to 81 million by 2040. 

Rhode Island lawmakers have started addressing the state’s affordable housing shortage in a variety of ways. Several bills are currently under consideration in the General Assembly. House Bill 7062 and Senate Bill 2630 will expand affordable housing options by easing barriers that prevent homeowners from creating an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) on their property. 

An ADU is a small, cottage-like structure or addition to the existing home, providing flexible living arrangements for families in many ways, including: 

1. Older homeowners can create an ADU on their property to move into and rent the larger house – or the opposite.

2. They can also offer the ADU or larger house to children or grandchildren so the family can live together, but with their own, separate spaces.

3. Family caregivers can offer mom, dad or other loved ones a place to call their own where they can maintain their independence while also receiving any help they may need, such as transportation, meal preparation or medication management.

4. Older residents can rent an ADU from another homeowner so they can stay in the community they know. 

Bottom line: ADUs help families save time and money. They help older Rhode Islanders stay in their homes and communities where they want to be. And they help family caregivers manage the big responsibilities that come with assisting older parents, spouses and other loved ones. 

Our current housing framework must be updated to serve Rhode Island families today and in the future. Providing single-lot homeowners across the state with the opportunity to create an ADU on their property is a step in the right direction to increase affordable housing options and availability. 

On behalf of more than 125,000 AARP members statewide, AARP Rhode Island thanks the House of Representatives for passing House Bill 7062 and urges the Senate to pass an ADU bill in the coming weeks.

You can take action: Ask your Senator to support the ADU bill. Click here to send an email.

This story is provided by AARP Rhode Island. Visit the AARP Rhode Island page for more news, events, and programs affecting retirement, health care, and more.

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