What's Up Newp: HWRI: Addressing housing needs and challenges for older Rhode Islanders a focus for local funders

With funding support from the Tufts Health Plan Foundation and Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island (BCBSRI), HousingWorks RI (HWRI) at Roger Williams University will delve deeper into the housing needs and challenges facing older adults across Rhode Island, and develop a comprehensive 10-year strategy to address these needs and challenges over the next two years.

According to Housing and Older Residents in Rhode Island, an infographic released by HousingWorks RI in late 2020, and sponsored by BCBSRI, a significant number of older residents, who make up the majority of heads of households in the state, are housing cost burdened and have annual incomes that make it difficult to maintain a high quality of life as they age. Older renter households are particularly vulnerable to living in housing that does not have accessibility features that support aging in place safely due to the age of Rhode Island's rental housing stock.

“As we've seen time and time again, where you live has a great impact on your health and overall quality of life,” said Brenda Clement, Director of HousingWorks RI at Roger Williams University. “For aging Rhode Islanders, a lack of affordable and accessible housing options connected to transportation and services has created obstacles for our seniors to age in their community. We are pleased that both Tufts Health Plan Foundation and Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island recognize that safe and affordable housing options are a key component of good health whatever your age.”

With the prevalence of aging adults living alone, there is also the potential these households will have limited access to appropriate caregivers as they age. Further research is needed to measure the scope of need, but existing local research has shown that aging Rhode Islanders need a diversity of accessible and affordable housing, greater transportation options, and amenities that support Age-Friendly neighborhoods across the state. Through this initiative, HousingWorks RI will connect with local and state thought partners, catalog available and accessible resources, examine current challenges within the system, and develop a strategy to better equip older Rhode Islanders to safely age in community.

The Tufts Health Plan Foundation announced 16 new grants to support collaborative initiatives helping communities throughout New England be great places to grow up and grow old. HousingWorks RI at Roger Williams University, a Rhode Island recipient, received a two-year grant from the Foundation.

“We've seen dramatic inequities across the region over this past year,” said Thomas P. O'Neill, III, chair of the Tufts Health Plan Foundation board. “As our region moves toward recovery, we have an opportunity—and an obligation—to rethink how our systems support healthy aging and older people. Communities that are welcoming for older adults are welcoming for young families and everyone in between.”

BCBSRI, a steadfast supporter of HWRI's housing and health work, is building upon investments started two years ago with HWRI to enable research and continued awareness building on the unique housing issues of older adults in Rhode Island. At the launch of the Housing and Older Residents in Rhode Island forum held in November 2020, national and local experts shared the latest research and innovations to address the particular financial, housing and health challenges faced by aging adults. BCBSRI's support announced today will translate that information into action through the development of a 10-year, solutions-focused strategy to improve opportunity for older residents to age in their community.

“Since releasing the results of the inaugural Rhode Island Life Index survey which oversampled older Rhode Islanders, and clearly elevated lack of safe and affordable housing as the most significant impediment to wellbeing, BCBSRI has been laser focused on investments to improve access to housing for all Rhode Islanders,” said Carolyn Belisle, managing director of corporate social responsibility at BCBSRI. “We are grateful to HWRI, a member of the RI Life Index Coalition, for the critical role they play behind the scenes, researching and publishing actionable data, and advocating for change and innovation. We appreciate the opportunity to continue our partnership and collaboration to drive progress and equity for this population and all Rhode Islanders.”

About HousingWorks RI at Roger Williams University

HousingWorks RI at Roger Williams University is the state's premiere source for accurate, timely, and easy to understand data on housing affordability in Rhode Island. HousingWorks RI began in 2004 as a campaign to educate the public and business community about a rapidly emerging economic development problem: the lack of affordable housing options for the state's workforce. Today, HousingWorks RI identifies best practices, conducts research, and analyzes data to support policy recommendations, public education strategies, and communications initiatives. Through publications like the annual Housing Fact Book, Special Reports, Issue Briefs, and cutting-edge Infographics, HousingWorks RI educates stakeholders and works to build consensus around the connection between housing and economic development.

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