Like many of my colleagues at LeadingAge, I’ve done a lot of thinking over the years about the future of affordable housing for older adults.

All that thinking can be boiled down to 3 basic beliefs:

  • We need more affordable senior housing. There’s not nearly enough of it to meet the current need, no less the growing need that we’ll be facing in the next few decades.
  • We need more housing that provides an affordable option to moderate-income older adults, in addition to low-income older adults. Priced out of the market-rate rental market, but ineligible for rental assistance, older adults with moderate incomes are falling through the cracks at an alarming rate.
  • We need housing that provides older adults with more than just shelter. Affordable senior housing is an ideal platform for the delivery of services and supports that can help older adults stay healthy and independent for longer, and can reduce their utilization of high-cost health care services.

I’ve been delivering these messages for many years, to nonprofit leaders, policy makers, researchers, service providers, and others in our sector. But my recent experience at a housing conference sponsored by the Urban Land Institute (ULI) convinced me that I need to cast my net a little wider in the future.

Never Heard of ULI?

If you’ve never heard of ULI, or don’t know what it does, don’t feel bad. Admittedly, ULI is not among the organizations with which LeadingAge members interact regularly. And that’s my point. It should be.

ULI is a nonprofit research and education organization supported by almost 40,000 members worldwide. Those members represent the entire spectrum of land use and real estate development, both for-profit and nonprofit. That includes developers, architects, urban planners, property owners, bankers, investors, public officials, nonprofit organizations, and academics.

ULI describes itself as a “real estate forum” that “facilitates an open exchange of ideas, information, and experience among industry leaders and policy makers dedicated to creating better places.” It’s committed to shaping cities and regions by promoting effective relationships among business, government, and community stakeholders.

That sounds like a priority LeadingAge members could get behind.

And my recent interactions with ULI members suggests that they could get behind many of the priorities that LeadingAge members share, including our commitment to affordable and service-rich housing for older adults.

Clearly, LeadingAge members and ULI members should talk more about our common goals.

I traveled to New Orleans in mid-September to do just that.

The Future of Affordable Housing

During a session on “The Future of Affordable Housing for Seniors” at ULI’s Housing Opportunity 2017 conference, I took the opportunity to talk about the need for affordable senior housing among low- and moderate-income older adults, and the need to integrate housing and health for residents of that housing. I also shared real examples about the work LeadingAge members are doing to help low-income elders age successfully in their communities.

I’m pleased to report that those messages were well received. The session attracted a big crowd, which shows that the real estate industry is interested in affordability. Following my presentation, I fielded thoughtful questions from several ULI members, including an architect who wanted advice on how to design affordable housing communities in a way that would facilitate onsite service delivery.

It was great to have a role in influencing the thinking of professionals who belong to a very large, global organization. And it was gratifying to know that these professionals are actually interested in issues affecting housing for low- and moderate-income older adults.

Make New Friends

As advocates for affordable senior housing, we need to get our messages to more people like the ULI members I met in New Orleans. These professionals are looking for innovative ways to improve the lives of people living in communities around the country. And so are we.

Some LeadingAge members already have meaningful connections with professionals in the larger real estate world. I hope you’ll continue to make it a priority to build relationships there. For those who haven’t yet connected with organizations like ULI, I’d urge you to reach out and make new friends.

The way I see it, we’re leaders in the field of affordable senior housing. That gives us a responsibility to raise our voices so our messages on behalf of low- and moderate-income older adults are heard far and wide.

That’s what I plan to do, anyway. Will you join me?