During the COVID-19 pandemic, many older adults faced social isolation and disruptions in access to food, medical care, and supportive services. In response, organizations that support older people improvised solutions to address these challenges. A new report, Advancing Housing and Health Equity for Older Adults: Pandemic Innovations and Policy Ideas, examines how these responses, most of which were intended to be temporary, might improve housing and supports for older adults and address longstanding inequities.
Even before the pandemic, millions of older adults in the US struggled to pay for housing, causing them to spend less on food, healthcare, and other necessities. The pandemic exacerbated these issues: not only did its economic fallout affect older adults, but it shuttered important community resources and strained the care workforce. As a result, inequalities among older adults—some of them rooted in structural discrimination in housing and public policy—deepened.
Drawing from more than 200 examples of housing-focused pandemic responses nationwide, and informed by a diverse network of policymakers, practitioners, advocates, and researchers, the report provides a comprehensive set of observations and recommendations for the future. Among them:
- Age-friendly networks played a critical role in information sharing, advocacy, and the delivery of goods and services during the pandemic. Funders, including government agencies and foundations, can play a larger role in nurturing the development of interorganizational networks and partnerships, especially ones that include local organizations trusted by older adults.
- Collaboration with older adults was essential in devising pandemic responses. Engaging older adults, people with disabilities, and caregivers in planning processes helps ensure that plans meaningfully include the full population.
- Flexibility in regulations and funding enabled many pandemic responses. Going forward, some of these responses might be made permanent or flexibility could be built in to ensure innovation in non-emergency times.
- Services delivered to the home were particularly valuable during the pandemic, especially during periods of sheltering at home, and service coordinators played particularly important roles in publicly-assisted housing. Adequate funding is needed to expand these services to more older adults.
- During the pandemic, the physical design, safety, and infrastructure of homes and neighborhoods mattered more than ever. Architects, developers, planners, and building managers should work to ensure everyone has access to fresh air, broadband, and accessible homes and neighborhoods.
- Some pandemic responses succeeded despite barriers to coordination and collaboration. Strengthening the connections between housing, healthcare, and social service programs requires coordinating subsidies and incentives, sharing data, and establishing forums for collaboration.