More Americans are aging in place; Can towns and cities adapt?

The graying of the American homeowner is upon us. The question is: Will communities be ready for the challenges that come with that?

The number of households headed by someone age 70 or older will surge by 42 percent from 2015 to 2025, according to a report on the state of housing released last month by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, or JCHS.

The Harvard researchers note that a majority of those households will be aging in place, not downsizing or moving to retirement communities. That will have implications for an array of support services people will need as they age.

But the housing age wave comes at a time when federal programs that provide those supports are treading water in Washington. Consider the signature federal legislation that helps fund community planning and service programs for independent aging, the Older Americans Act. The OAA supports everything from home-delivered meals to transportation and caregiver support programs – and importantly, helps communities plan for future needs as their populations get older.

States and municipalities use the federal dollars they receive via the OAA to leverage local funding. The law requires reauthorization every five years, a step that has been on hold in Congress since 2011. Funding has continued during that time, with one exception: During sequestration in March 2013, OAA programs were cut by 5 percent; many have since been reversed, but other cuts now appear to be permanent.

A survey last year by the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a), which represents local government aging service providers, found that some states had reduced nutrition programs, transportation services and caregiver support programs.

Recovery since then has been uneven, according to Sandy Markwood, chief executive officer of the n4a. “In some cases, states made up the differences, but many programs still are not back to pre-sequestration levels.”

But here’s the more critical point: Even if all the cuts had been restored, treading water wouldn’t be good enough in light of the challenges communities will soon. Learn more at Reuters Money.