In March of 2011, LeadingAge convened the Summit on Aging in Public Housing, which brought together a select group of public housing authorities, service providers, and public-housing residents to discuss the opportunities and challenges presented by an aging resident population. The summit was supported by a grant from the Atlantic Philanthropies and organized in partnership with Enterprise Community Partners, a Maryland-based nonprofit that provides development capital and expertise to create affordable homes and rebuild communities.
Providing housing with services to their older residents is a relatively new activity for public housing authorities, which have traditionally focused on helping younger residents attain social and financial stability. But as more residents of both senior-designated and family buildings are aging in place, public housing authorities around the country are beginning to pay more attention to the challenges facing their older populations. Unfortunately, says Alisha Sanders, senior research associate at the LeadingAge Center for Applied Research, many public housing providers find themselves dealing with these challenges in relative isolation.
During the 2-day summit, many participants met their counterparts from other cities for the first time to discuss and share various strategies for supporting residents who wish to remain safely in their own homes. For example:
- The Atlanta Housing Authority (AHA) collaborated with LeadingAge to survey residents about their physical, mental health and functional status as well as their health care utilization, physical activity, support networks, computer usage, spirituality, service needs and activity interests. Armed with this knowledge, AHA is now developing wellness programs and making physical changes to its properties to support resident needs and facilitate programming and service delivery.
- The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) carried out a similar assessment through a survey that was administered among a random sample of NYCHA residents by the City University of New York. NYCHA is now identifying programs and services, including a smoking cessation and diabetes self-management program, which will help address some of the needs uncovered by the assessment.
- The Brattleboro Housing Authority in Vermont participates in Seniors Aging Safely at Home, a statewide care management model that is currently being rolled out to help coordinate health services and long-term services and supports for residents living in affordable senior housing properties and the surrounding communities.
- A local health system provides monthly clinics at 9 properties managed by the Denver Housing Authority.
- The Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee has worked in partnership with its residents' association and other community organizations to establish a continuing care-like community in 1 property and to link with an assisted living facility in another property.
- Partnerships with a federally qualified health center and LeadingAge members Baptist Village Communities and Daily Living Centers have helped the Oklahoma City Housing Authority offer an onsite adult day center and wellness clinic and to facilitate offsite health appointments.
Possible Next Steps
Participants' receptiveness to the summit's sharing and networking opportunities convinced LeadingAge and Enterprise that all senior housing providers could benefit from a learning circle collaborative that would offer regular opportunities for knowledge and information sharing about housing-with-services options. Sanders suggests that such knowledge transfer might take place through a variety of vehicles, including in-person gatherings, conference calls, web-based events and a website where users could exchange documents and information.
“Housing authorities face a few challenges that other housing providers don’t have, including the diffusion of their older residents in family buildings or in the community, in addition to their elderly-designated buildings,” says Sanders. “But they also face many of the same challenges as other housing providers that have an aging resident base. By using their communities as a delivery platform for community-based services, these housing authorities can support their residents in a more efficient way and perhaps produce better outcomes for them.”