The Longevity Revolution: Getting Housing Ready for Seniors to Age In Place

Published in Member Communities on April 13, 2021

Jim Greatorex and Louis TenenbaumAllowing seniors to age in place has become even more important due to the current COVID-19 pandemic. However, homes are not necessarily built for aging adults. VGM Live at Home is working with HomesRenewed Coalition to introduce and hopefully pass legislation allowing for tax incentives that influence homeowners to update their homes in advance of a health crisis, allowing them to age in place or recuperate at home.

Jim Greatorex, VP of VGM Live At Home, recently sat down with Louis Tenenbaum, Founder, and CEO of The HomesRenewed Coalition, to discuss how Louis started in the industry, the importance of this legislation, and why 2021 is a great year for this legislation.


JG: Louis, could you just give the audience a background of your advocacy that you've had for decades?

LT: I started out when I finished college. I wanted to build my own solar house. So, to my father's incredible dismay, I got a job as a laborer on a construction site and became a carpenter. And in 1988, I was working as primarily a remodeling contractor in the DC Metro area when I was asked to help with a household that wanted a bathroom remodeled. Their son had been injured and was coming out of rehab as a paraplegic.

And I asked his mom, what do you need a contractor for? And she said, I don't. I didn't have to help him. He was 12 years old. I didn't have to help him in the bathroom before he was injured. When he gets out of rehab, I want him to be independent in the bathroom. Now this was ‘88. There wasn't any internet. There wasn't any way to find out what to do…[Because of the modifications] I eventually did in his bathroom, I was totally turned [onto the industry] by recognizing how significant it was for this family that he was independent, and I'd helped with that with my hammer and saw. A few years later, I read an article about the age wave and decided to focus my design-build remodeling business on the idea of this type of remodeling, which I appreciated so much for this growing older population.

…Everything that we kind of do in this country, or a lot of it, is based on policy...And my thought was, how can we get some of that for our industry? How can we begin to have policies that will influence people to update their homes, providing business to the contractors and the VGM network, but also providing benefits and advantages to companies in related fields that serve people aging in those homes, such as home care, meals, and food delivery, and so forth?

JG: Why is this year in particular such a golden opportunity for a home safety upgrade bill? The timing is exceptional, could you touch on that?

LT: This year in particular, we are all suffering with the COVID-19 pandemic. I think we all see in some respects that there are silver linings. It's maybe not quite a silver lining, but we see that congregate housing facilities, skilled nursing facilities, rehab facilities, and assisted living homes are just not as safe as we always thought they were. And it's very sad that 40% of deaths among older population in this pandemic are occurring in these types of facilities.

And once the myth that [these types of facilities are] the safest place to house our loved relatives is busted, then we start to look at the home. We see that the home is the place where people can probably be safer. But most homes weren't designed for this population. They weren't designed for people who have balance problems, frailty, and mobility problems. If we can upgrade those elements that make it safer for someone to live at home, then we hit the double jackpot of being a place that's safe from influenza or Coronavirus, as well as being safe from some of the changes that are recognized that occur in older people and that are typically the reason people move to these congregate settings, because you can't toilet, bathe, or get in and out safely.

So if we can make that mix right by updating the housing, then we have a much safer and more robust and huge supply of safe places for our older cherished citizens to live.

JG: And that's a great way to put it, but I also think there's going to be a lot of legislation that is going to be related to the pandemic and post-pandemic economy and all the things that we've learned about, [including] the senior congregated housing and the tough time they are having right now, which is a shame because they perform a very valued service.

But I also think that it will be a time for us to also talk about what issues we had before the pandemic, which was no matter how much we love senior housing and the congregated model, there was never going to be enough of it available for everybody.

LT: Absolutely Jim, there was never going to be enough. We can't build enough and we can't afford to build enough. And at the same time, we have roughly 100 million houses in this country already. Most of them are privately owned and that's where the idea of a tax incentive can come in to influence those individuals, to use some of their own resources. And that saves money and creates more safe senior housing.

JG: What we're looking at, I think is really a middle-class bill…There's a study out there that says that there's probably about 14 million baby boomers who are in the middle class or lower middle class that own [or] actually still owe on their homes. If they were to cash in their asset and go to senior housing, they may deplete their funds in less than two years...Then they're going to be dependent on probably subsidized housing of some kind…So there's a lot of opportunity here to do a really significant service for our folks in the golden years. And as we know, we're in the longevity revolution. That’s a term I got from you, Louis, that I love.

LT: Yeah. Well, and there's another factor, Jim, on the same middle-income people. There was a study out about a year and a half ago called the forgotten middle by an outfit called Health Affairs…and it showed that by 2030, 54% of middle income older Americans will not have the money to pay for their housing and care. This is when people start to make bad decisions about not taking medicine, not having their house warm enough, or not doing maintenance. And it has a rolling impact.

And another factor is that when, unfortunately, when people have health crises, whether it's cancer or Parkinson's, they often run out of money because these things are expensive. People actually fear sometimes the cost of a cancer diagnosis, more than they fear the treatment problems with the treatment that they need to pay for and to have.

One-third of personal bankruptcies are said to be a result of health crises. So if we can help those people live more economically, then they don't fall down into that lower-income population…the dual-eligible population, those who are eligible for Medicaid because they have low resources and also eligible for Medicare because they're over 65. And if we can keep people from falling into that category, using their own resources, maintaining their self-esteem, and enjoying the homes that they love and cherish, we're all better off.


Louis Tenenbaum and the HomesRenewed Coalition are currently working on a white paper that will discuss the reasoning behind providing tax incentives to middle-income earners for home improvements. Visit homesrenewedcoalition.com for more information on HomesRenewed Coalition and to learn how to get involved.

The full interview was featured on our recent Industry Matters Podcast episode, The Home Accessibility Tax Incentive Bill – What YOU Can Do! Make sure to subscribe to our podcast on your favorite podcast service.

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