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Most New England houses are not ready for 'aging in place,' says Census Bureau report

And illustration of a neighborhood.
A new Census Bureau report finds many of New England's houses are not physically accessible for people to remain safe as they get older.

As the state with the third-oldest population in the country, Vermont is uniquely exposed to problems facing older people. A new report by the Census Bureau, however, shows New England has the smallest proportion of accessible housing in the country.

Researchers at the Census Bureau found 40.1% of the country’s housing stock to be accessible for older people nationwide, but only 19.6% of the housing stock in New England could be considered accessible.

To determine accessibility, the Census Bureau asked if households had a step-free entryway and, for houses with multiple stories, if there was a bedroom and full bathroom on the first floor. New England has far more multi-level homes and step entries than the rest of the country.

Many Vermonters own older homes not built with accessibility in mind, said Tracey Shamberger, director of business development and communications at Age Well Vermont, the Area Agency on Aging for Addison, Chittenden, Franklin, and Grand Isle counties.

“They don’t have accessible bathrooms or spaces that would prevent falls, which is an area we’re very focused on,” Shamberger said. “And then, of course there’s the cost. Many older adults live on fixed budgets and so it becomes a barrier for them to stay in a home that’s older if they’re not living in it with many other people in the home.”

The rural nature of the state presents additional challenges, Shamberger said, particularly when it comes to transportation, which the Census Bureau report did not cover.

“One of the biggest barriers for older adults, regardless of where they live, is transportation,” said Shamberger. “So if they’re in a rural place without access to transportation, living in a rural setting can really exacerbate the situation.”

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Corey Dockser is Vermont Public’s first data journalist, a role combining programming and journalism to produce stories that would otherwise go unheard. His work ranges from complex interactive visualizations to simple web scraping and data cleaning. Corey graduated from Northeastern University in 2022 with a BS in data science and journalism. He previously worked at The Buffalo News in Buffalo, New York as a Dow Jones News Fund Data Journalism intern, and at The Boston Globe.
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