Lifelong Home Certification Program: Moving Forward through Partnerships

The ability to remain within our homes and communities as we navigate life changes is important. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 90% of Americans would prefer to stay in their homes as long as possible if they experience decreases in mobility or other functions because of aging, disease, accidents or other issues. The development of residential environments that can be accessed and understood to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of age, size, and ability, however, has not yet become universal.

In Colorado, 16.9% of adults have some type of disability. These disabilities may include issues with mobility, cognition, independent living, vision, or self-care. Many of these adults are part of Colorado’s senior population, which is growing twice as fast as the population at large and is expected to double by 2030. A 2016 housing study found, however, that there is a statewide shortage of affordable disability-friendly and/or age-qualified housing (The Highland Group, 2016). Research has shown that not only do seniors prefer to age in place, but that staying within their own communities improves their health and well-being, and decreases both cost burdens and isolation, thereby strengthening individuals, families, and communities (National Research Center, 2015; Sugar et al. 2013).

To better understand this issue, IBE has been building relationships and working with communities, industries, municipalities, and agencies across the state. We have partnered locally with the Larimer County Partnership for Age-Friendly Communities (PAFC), Actual Communities Inc., and CSU’s Center for Healthy Aging. Additionally, we are developing partnerships with the Colorado State Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) through its Lifelong Colorado initiative, as well as other agencies and organizations including the Colorado Health Institute, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), the City of Centennial, and a national consortium of organizations dedicated to the development of age- and disability-friendly housing at the national level.

Through our collaborative partnerships, we have engaged different types of stakeholders in envisioning innovative solutions to the problem of suitable lifelong housing for all. A series of early community and industry engagement workshops resulted in the idea of a voluntary certification program to incentivize the market. IBE fellow, Raina Benford, followed up on this idea with research on the key factors, barriers, market trends, and qualities that support a certification program as a way to advance the development of age- and disability-friendly housing. This research is now being released in our new whitepaper, Colorado Lifelong Homes: A Review of Barriers & Solutions for Aging in Place.

The paper features key research and examples of our findings, as well as our overall framework for the development of the Colorado Lifelong Homes Certification Program. This certification program is based on the following five primary categories of qualities that should be present in lifelong homes.

1-Walkability & Community

A home goes beyond the interior of a dwelling or even the property on which it is located. This category focuses on the design of the surrounding neighborhood and the availability of amenities around a home. Criteria in this category includes such considerations as access to natural spaces, sidewalk accessibility, public transportation, accessible places for socializing, and the availability of necessary services.

2-Visitability

All homes should be able to accommodate visitors of any ability. This category addresses the design of residential common spaces and entrances that make it easier for anyone to access a home. Criteria include strategies that better accommodate wheelchairs, walkers, and even baby strollers, such as step-free entries, wider door and corridor widths, an accessible guest restroom, and parking accessibility.

3-Universal Design

Home design that keeps adaptability in mind can ensure that a home will support the needs of both current and future residents. Universal Design (UD) prioritizes adaptability with inclusive interior spaces that are livable, functional, and convenient for all ages and abilities. UD strategies account for design that is inclusive, welcoming, adaptable, and flexible so that a home may be readily adapted as the needs of its inhabitant evolve.

4-Safety & Fall Prevention

Many traditional home designs and materials can become unsafe for those experiencing disabilities in mobility, eyesight, or cognition, contributing to increased falls and other safety issues. This category focuses on mitigating safety issues with strategies such as slip-resistant flooring, adequate lighting, grab bars, and the encouragement of clutter-free home environments.

5-Affordability & Maintenance

Anyone experiencing any type of disability may also face declines in income, and escalating costs associated with healthcare and necessary home improvement and maintenance. The final category considers both the first costs and ongoing operating costs associated with creating and maintaining a suitable home environment. It addresses criteria such as energy efficiency, mortgage or rent costs, and low-maintenance landscaping and materials. In addition, this category considers solutions and strategies involving the overall property, rather than just the home, such as adding an accessible Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU).

While the Colorado Lifelong Homes Certification Program is still under development, these five key categories provide a framework for what we consider crucial components of any lifelong home. Interested in learning more about specific criteria? Check out Raina Benford’s 2018 blog post.

Our continued partners (and those yet to be engaged) will help us refine the criteria most critical within each category. They will also help define how these criteria should be weighted to make the program meaningful while still feasible in terms of cost, effort, and time. Issues are likely to be different for different types of projects (e.g., new vs. existing, single-family vs. multifamily, etc.) and different areas of Colorado (e.g., urban, suburban, rural), and we continue to seek partners to provide feedback on the program from a variety of perspectives.

If you are interested in learning more about the Colorado Lifelong Homes Certification Program or in becoming a partner, please contact me to help us bring this initiative to fruition!