Housing for seniors

Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) projections indicate that the senior population will grow significantly over the next 30 years. Many seniors will want to remain in their communities and current homes. Policies that promote affordability, as well as safe and accessible housing will be critical. The following is a brief overview of strategies municipalities can put in place to address the housing needs of senior residents. CMAP’s Aging in Place whitepaper provides additional information.


As seniors age in their homes, limited resources and/or physical limitations may prevent them from maintaining the homes. Maintenance is important not only for the safety of the residents, but also for preserving the affordability of the housing.

  • As residents age, basic home repairs may become unaffordable. Some seniors may also be fearful of maintenance workers taking advantage of them. Handyman programs can help seniors with minor repairs, such as toilet and sink repair, installing grab bars, gutter cleaning, or smoke alarms, at reasonable costs. Rolling Meadows and Proviso Township operate local handyman programs. Recently, a group of municipalities in the Northwest suburbs came together to expand Rolling Meadows’ program and offer it across five municipalities.
  • Municipalities can support and/or facilitate volunteer programs that can help with such things as yard work, snow shoveling, and light home maintenance. The volunteers can come from non-profit organizations, churches, schools, or local Rebuilding Together affiliates.
  • The Illinois Housing Development Authority has financing help for more extensive repairs on single family houses through the Illinois Affordable Housing Trust Fund’s Single Rehabilitation (SFR) program. This program provides grants to units of local government and community-based organizations to help low-income homeowners afford costly home repairs.
  • Local rehab programs can be targeted to the senior population, who may have fewer resources to keep their homes in good condition. Learn more about general rehab programs.

Home modification

As seniors age, mobility issues and other impairments begin to develop, often requiring modifications to the home. Also, it may become necessary for some older adults to live with their children or other adults due to financial or physical reasons. Intergenerational or shared housing may require adaptation of the local housing stock. Municipalities can utilize the following strategies to help with these issues.

  • Provide home safety assessments.
  • Share information with residents and developers about the National Association of Homebuilders’ Aging-In-Place Remodeling Checklist that can be used as a guide for senior-friendly home remodeling projects.
  • Maintain a database of qualified contractors, such as Certified Aging in Place Specialists (CAPS).
  • Expedite permitting processes so that residents can easily install modifications such as wheelchair ramps.
  • Utilize or market IHDA’s Home Accessibility Program (HAP). Funded by the Illinois Affordable Housing Trust Fund, HAP provides funding to units of local government and non-profit organizations throughout the State to provide home accessibility grants to their local constituency. These grants help people stay in their homes and prevent premature or unnecessary institutionalization of the elderly and people with disabilities.
  • Consider creating a municipal-run home modification program. Some communities support such programs through funding sources from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Community Development Block Grants (CDBG). Other communities rely on local funding and/or collaborations with their local township, county, and neighboring communities.
  • Allow for accessory dwelling units (ADUs), which may be more in demand due to an increase in intergenerational living or live-in caregivers. An ADU is a second dwelling unit on the site of, or attached to, the primary residence. It can be used to house family members, caregivers, or be the primary residence for the senior. ADUs can help with affordability and safety of the older adult.

New construction of senior housing

Not all seniors may want, or be able, to stay in their homes. New units of housing that are sensitively designed can help to meet the needs of seniors as they age. Municipalities should consider the following when pursuing new senior housing developments:

  • Senior developments should be built in walkable neighborhoods, near transportation, shopping, and other amenities. Traditional senior housing consists of independent senior housing, assisted living facilities, nursing homes, and Continuing Care Retirement Communities.
  • Developing new affordable senior housing will likely require funding programs such as CDBG, the HOME Investment Partnerships Program, and the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program. Note that such initiatives typically require close collaboration with developers and county government.
  • Increased density and reduced parking requirements should be considered in senior multifamily housing when near transportation. Not having to overbuild parking helps to reduce the cost of the housing.
  • Consider adopting a Visitability Ordinance for new housing. Visitability includes such things as a no step entry, an accessible bathroom, and wide interior doors on the first floor, which allow the resident or guests the ability to navigate the home. See Bolingbrook’s Accessibility/Visitability Requirements for more information on how to develop and implement policies that can improve accessibility and visitability.
  • If fully accessible housing is desired, universal design codes could be adopted for the construction of new housing.

Diverse housing types

A range of housing options can offer affordable choices for older adults. Local zoning, subdivision, and building codes may need to be reviewed, and potentially modified to allow for some of these different housing types and arrangements.

  • As mentioned before, Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU) can help with affordability and safety of older adults.
  • Compact Homes/Compact Neighborhoods are small, private units that share common open space and other amenities. They provide less isolation for the aging adult and more social support. They are often built on infill sites.
  • “Green Houses” are an alternative community-based assisted living housing type that contains 6 to 12 private bedrooms with bathrooms, around a common living, kitchen, and eating area. On-site services are provided.
  • Multi/intergenerational developments are designed to intentionally bring several generations together -- students, families and seniors. Pat Crowley House in Chicago is an example of students, one couple, and nine seniors living together.
  • Failed malls, vacant commercial property, or closed schools can be an opportunity to repurpose into mixed use with senior housing or stand along senior housing developments.
  • Shared housing brings together people who wish to share their home with those needing housing. For an older adult it can improve their financial situation, secure needed assistance in the home, and reduce isolation. Examples in the region are the Shared Housing Program in DuPage County and Open Communities’ Homesharing Program.

Resource guide

While local governments are not typically service providers, they can play an important role coordinating services and service providers, as well as raising awareness of and providing information on available services. For instance, A Blueprint for Action recommends that communities create “a single point of entry for information about local services and publicize information on websites.” Having information readily available for seniors can be an important way for them to access the help they may need. Municipalities may consider creating a resource guide for seniors that could include (but is not limited to) such information as transportation services, senior housing options, social services, and health care services available in the community. An example of this type of guide is the Senior Resource Guide created by the Northwest Suburban Housing Collaborative.


As described by Rutgers School of Social Policy, “The Villages is an innovative model to help people remain in their homes and stay connected to their communities throughout later life. Villages have been described as self-governing, grassroots, community-based organizations that coordinate access to a variety of supportive services to promote aging in place, social integration, health and well-being.” Although starting a “Village” is really the role of local residents, municipalities could help educate residents about the benefits of replicating these models. Some examples of Villages that exist in the Chicago area are Skyline Village, North Shore Village, and Chicago Hyde Park Village.


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