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Older adults displaced by extreme weather events struggle to find accessible and affordable housing: 'It's a pretty devastating time'

Only 20% of homes in New England have age-friendly features.

Only 20% of homes in New England have age-friendly features.

Photo Credit: iStock

Natural disasters caused by rising temperatures are displacing the older generation. According to the Guardian, they have difficulty finding new homes after their homes are damaged. 

What's happening?

Doug and Rhoda Mason in Barre, Vermont, lost their home during recorded rain and flooding in 2023. A mudslide knocked their home 10 feet off the foundation. It happened on Doug Mason's 78th birthday. 

He retired 10 years prior, so they were on a fixed income. They lived off social security benefits and part-time work. Both stocked cards in local shops. 

They stayed with family while they looked for an affordable rental. It took two months, and they had to relocate 40 miles outside Barre. They were an hour's drive from everything they had known for the past 40-plus years.

Doug said, "Those were all a lot of little things, but to put them all together, it's a pretty devastating time."

The Masons are not an isolated situation. According to a census survey, in the last year, about 2.4 million adults were displaced, and one-fifth of them were over 65. 

Not only is it difficult for them to find housing because so many are on a fixed income, but according to the Census Bureau, only 20% of homes in New England have age-friendly features. These include homes with bathrooms on the first floor and entryways without steps. 

The Masons couldn't move into a house with stairs because they had both had knee surgeries. 

Jennifer Molinsky, project director for the Housing and Aging Society Program at Harvard, said, "We just don't have sufficient options that are affordable and accessible and well-connected to services for older adults." 

Why is the trend of vulnerable people being displaced concerning?

"Climate change is not abating, and we're not getting any younger," said Danielle Arigoni, managing director of policy and solutions at National Housing Trust. 

She also noted that rising temperatures could cause more disasters as the number of older adults increases. She expects the impacts to "reach more parts of the country."

Shawna Trader, an executive director of an LGBTQ+ support organization, said that another hurdle this generation has to tackle is that their options to get help with recovery are primarily digital. That makes it harder for them, especially if they don't have a strong support system or have other health concerns. 

What can I do to help support vulnerable community members?

Arigoni believes older adults need to be a higher priority for climate resilience planning. She suggests policies that would support them, such as dense hoses connected to public services and housing. 

To do this, you should change how you get involved with these issues. That starts with voting for pro-climate candidates and advocating for policies like Arigoni suggested. 

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