Affordability and access

They say home is where the heart is—and the same holds true for the Livability Index. Housing is a central component of livability. Deciding where to live influences many of the topics the Index covers. We spend more time in our homes than anywhere else, so housing costs, choices, and accessibility are critical. Great communities provide housing opportunities for people of all ages, incomes, and abilities, allowing everyone to live in a quality neighborhood regardless of their circumstances. 

How does my community compare to neighborhoods across the country?

  • Top Third
  • Middle Third
  • Bottom Third

Housing accessibility Basic passage

of units have basic passage Median US neighborhood: 2.6%

Percentage of housing units with extra-wide doors or hallways, floors with no steps between rooms, and an entry-level bedroom and bathroom: measured at the metro area scale, higher values are better

The majority of Americans want to stay in their homes as they age. Many will host guests or older family members with restricted mobility. It’s desirable to have a home that’s both accessible and aesthetically pleasing. Functional, tasteful designs that enable anyone to enter the home and move about—by foot, wheelchair, or walker—constitutes accessible housing. Here, the Index assesses the percentage of housing units in a metropolitan area with accessible features, such as extra-wide doors and hallways, floors with no steps between rooms, and at least one entry-level bathroom and bedroom. We don’t include ramps because AARP encourages new homes to be built with more attractive zero-step options to avoid costly and unattractive retrofits down the road.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2011 American Housing Survey 

Housing options Availability of multi-family housing

of units are multi-family Median US neighborhood: 18.8%

Percentage of housing units that are not single-family, detached homes: measured at the neighborhood scale, higher values are better

The majority of U.S. homes are single-family, detached houses that are often well-suited for families with children. However, a growing number of people are choosing smaller, more space- and cost-efficient homes. Older adults whose children have moved out or whose spouses have passed away, single-parent families, childless couples, or people who choose to share housing with roommates may all prefer multi-family housing. Livable communities offer housing for any situation, which is why the Index measures the percentage of housing units in a community that are not single-family, detached homes. 

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2007-2011 American Community Survey

Housing affordability Housing costs

per month Median US neighborhood: $999

Monthly housing costs: measured at the neighborhood scale, lower values are better. Monthly costs are capped at $4,000.

Housing typically takes the biggest portion of our paycheck or pension, and when prices soar, quality of life suffers. Higher monthly rent or mortgage payments leave less money for food, transportation, and health care, and restrict housing options for households with fixed or low-to-moderate incomes. The Index accounts for housing costs (including taxes, rent, mortgage fees, and utilities) that existing residents pay to help users compare the costs of living in different neighborhoods. However, it does not reflect the market rate price to rent or buy in the current local housing market.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2007-2011 American Community Survey 

Housing affordability Housing cost burden

of income spent on housing Median US neighborhood: 18.4%

Percentage of income devoted to monthly housing costs: measured at the neighborhood scale, lower values are better

Bigger cities may offer more employment opportunities, but often have higher housing costs, as well. Ideally, big-city salaries are adequate to cover both housing and other living expenses. Here, the Index compares neighborhood housing costs to average incomes in the greater metropolitan area or county.

Source: Housing costs come from the U.S. Census Bureau, 2007-2011 American Community Survey; and regional median incomes come from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 2011 HUD Program Income Limits

Housing affordability Availability of subsidized housing

units per 10,000 people Median US neighborhood: 124

Number of subsidized housing units per 10,000 people: measured at the county scale, higher values are better

Housing and other prices often are higher in more desirable communities. As  communities become “hot,” affordable options for low- and moderate-income residents may shrink. Lower-income residents are most likely to depend on the access to transit, stores, and jobs that popular communities offer. Subsidized housing helps such residents afford to live in higher-cost communities, and provides a safety net for people hit with unexpected financial challenges, such as job loss or divorce. The Index measures the number of subsidized housing units per 10,000 people in a county.

Source: Public and Affordable Housing Research Corporation and the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s 2012 National Housing Preservation Database 2007-2011 American Community Survey (ACS)

Housing accessibility State and local inclusive design laws

State and local laws that make housing accessible for people of all abilities

As Americans live longer, homes built for easy access are becoming more necessary. At a minimum, a house should be “visitable” for someone in a wheelchair. Visitability requires a zero-step entrance, wide doors and hallways, and a ground-floor bathroom. The Index gives credit to state and local governments that have established voluntary or mandatory policies to build housing with accessible features. 

Source: Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access, 2014 Local Visitability Initiatives and Policies List 

Housing affordability State and local housing trust funds

State and local funds that support the development and preservation of affordable housing

Housing trust funds allow communities to develop and preserve housing options for low-income residents. They are especially important for creating housing opportunities for people with lower incomes in areas where high demand drives up prices. The Index gives credit to states, cities, and counties that have a housing trust fund in place.

Source: Center for Community Change Housing Trust Fund Project, 2016 List of Housing Trust Funds in the United States

Housing options State manufactured housing protections

State laws guaranteeing notice and/or first right of purchase to residents of manufactured housing communities prior to sale

Factory-built manufactured housing (or “mobile home”) communities provide economical housing options for lower-income families who may own their homes, but not the land underneath their homes. However, in most states, the land on which a manufactured housing community sits can be sold out from under the residents without giving them any advance notice or any opportunity to purchase the property. The Index gives credit to states that implement policies to inform and empower manufactured housing residents before their community goes up for sale.

Source: National Consumer Law Center, 2016 List of State Manufactured Housing Laws 

Housing affordability State foreclosure prevention and protection

State policies and programs that protect homeowners from losing their homes to foreclosure

Foreclosures affect millions of Americans and have devastating financial and economic consequences for homeowners and communities alike. To help minimize the risk and impacts of foreclosures, states can regulate mortgage practices, mediate foreclosures, abolish deficiency judgments that make homeowners liable for debt, and enable communities to manage foreclosed properties. The Index gives credit to states that take at least two of these four actions to prevent and mitigate the impacts of foreclosure.

Source: Corporation for Enterprise Development, 2016 Assets and Opportunity Scorecard 

Commitment to livability State and local plans to create age-friendly communities

Communities that have taken comprehensive steps to prepare for the aging of the U.S. population

By 2030, there will be twice as many Americans over the age of 65 as there were in 2000. To help residents live comfortably in all stages of life, communities must provide opportunities like convenient transportation, walkable neighborhoods, affordable and accessible housing, multi-generational social opportunities, and inclusive business practices—just to name a few. To guide communities toward making these forward-thinking changes, several organizations have also established peer-learning networks and identified processes to help make communities age-friendly. The Index gives credit to states, metropolitan areas, counties, and cities that are part of the AARP or World Health Organization (WHO) networks of Age-Friendly Communities or recipients of Grantmakers in Aging Community AGEnda grants. In the future, the Index may award communities that participate in other age-friendly initiatives.

Sources: AARP 2016 Age-Friendly Communities Member List, WHO Global Network for Age-friendly Cities and Communities, and Grantmakers in Aging 2016 Age-Friendly America database