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Hope for Housing Policy: Let Women Age in Place

This op-ed is part of a series about Forgotten Women—financially insecure women between the ages of 50 and 65—and policy solutions that can offer them hope. Learn more about the Hope Agenda from Independent Women’s Voice here. Originally appeared in RealClearHealth.

Women are living longer and working later into what should be their retirement years. While older Americans are more likely to enter retirement with greater wealth thanks to the growth in property values and retirement portfolios, women face greater financial insecurity. For many older women with little savings, unsteady employment, and health issues, thinking about retirement creates anxiety and fear. One hope for building financial security for women of different ages and marital statuses may be right over their heads.

The financial picture for many women aged 50+ is concerning. According to AARP Research, one in three women are very or somewhat worried about their current financial situation compared to just one in four men. Concern over finances is even more common among divorced, separated, or widowed women. Not surprisingly, they cite costs of living, living paycheck-to-paycheck, and difficulty managing money at higher rates than their male counterparts.

Women 50 or older are also worried about their financial futures. New polling from Independent Women’s Voice identified that 89% of women are looking for leaders to offer financial solutions for people who can’t find new work but can’t afford to retire. A GOBankingRates survey found that women are more likely than men to have nothing saved for retirement. Because they are more likely than men to have taken employment breaks to care for children or aging parents—48% of their lives versus 28% of men’s, according to Merrill Lynch—they enter retirement with less money saved. Nor do older women count on Social Security to be available or sufficient to sustain them.

Given that women’s life expectancy is six years longer than men’s, married women are likely to outlive their partner and their retirement assets, leaving them to figure out how to support themselves in their final years. Altogether, poverty rates for women 65+ are among the highest of any demographic. The burden of caring for aging women often falls on their daughters or daughters-in-law, as women are more likely than men to take on family caregiving tasks. These women may be approaching retirement age themselves, and also facing financial worry.

One asset that is far less susceptible to the whims of the market and that can provide long-term financial security is property. Women have overcome significant historical barriers—from being legally prevented from possessing homes and property until the 1830s—to now being major consumers in the housing market. Today, single women own more homes than single men; single women own 58% of the nearly 35.2 million homes owned by unmarried Americans, compared to 42% owned by men.

By itself, homeownership is inadequate to provide financial security. Property owners must be able to generate income from their investments. Renting out one’s property offers a host of benefits, including guaranteed monthly passive income, increased net worth, tax benefits, credit building, and savings for retirement. To be sure, being a landlady comes with a host of costly headaches, but it can provide financial freedom outside of the daily employment grind—something that many women may desire in their later years.

The challenge is that restrictions on land use, zoning rules, costly permitting processes, and restrictive regulations impede homeowners from turning unused dwelling spaces into domiciles for renters. A good place for policymakers to start would be allowing for and incentivizing the construction of multiple-unit or accessory dwelling units (ADUs) on single-family residential lots. Homeowners benefit from steady rental income and increased property values. Meanwhile, ADUs expand housing stock in a given area, which may improve housing affordability. For some families, ADUs may encourage intergenerational living situations and provide caregiving for young and aging family members.

ADUs come in many shapes and forms: duplexes and triplexes; detached structures such as tiny homes, backyard cottages, and granny flats; converted garages and workshops; additions; converted basements; and other spaces within homes.

Millions of ADUs may exist nationwide but operate outside of the government’s purview, which could lead to living in unsafe conditions.

State lawmakers recognize this is an area for reform, in some cases overruling restrictive policies of local jurisdictions. California reformed its housing policy to encourage ADUs in 2016. The results were rapid. Permitted ADUs grew from just over 1,000 in 2016 to over 24,000 in 2022 and comprise 19% of new housing permits. About 80,000 ADUs have been built since policy changes in 2016. Over a quarter (27%) of completed ADUs have qualified as low- or moderate-income units above the 20% for all new permitted housing. ADUs may not solve homelessness or the unaffordable housing crisis, but they are a start. And expanding housing stock is a much better direction than imposing rent control policies, which only suppress supply.

ADUs can boost a home’s value by 35%, but at a hefty price tag of $60,000 to $220,000. To help older and low-income homeowners afford the renovation and construction costs, cities like BostonCharleston, and Orlando and states like California and Maryland are partnering with local organizations to offer grants and loans that would normally be unavailable in addition to guidance and relaxing onerous regulations.

Women are increasingly purchasing homes alone or will inherit properties from deceased spouses or parents. As high mortgage interest rates and inflation continue to make life increasingly unaffordable, policymakers can deploy these common-sense policy solutions to help these forgotten women use their biggest assets to build long-term financial security.

February Policy Focus: Rent Control

Every month, IWF releases a policy focus on issues affecting women and their families across the country. As valued members of IWN, we want to give y...

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Working for Women Report

We know women care about flexibility. While the left promotes the idea that women are a monolith who all want the same thing in life, we know women don’t always have the same opinions. And when it comes to working outside the home, flexibility is the top priority for millions of women. The problem is, rising costs on everything from housing to food means financial security and affordability trumps their own personal considerations—like wanting to have more time with family. In other words: this economy is making it hard for women to make the choices that are best for them!

The bottom line: Women are struggling to make ends meet and want to know that there are plenty of job opportunities out there to meet their goals and want policy proposals that will maximize flexibility and create diverse work opportunities.

If you want to learn more about this topic, check out the third edition of the “Working for Women” report which advances solutions that place women—not government—in the driver’s seat to build the lives that they want for themselves and their families.

Check out the report’s author—Patrice Onwuka—talking about the report HERE!

WATCH NOW! Working for Women Report Sneak Peek

As valued members of IWN, we want to give you a special sneak peek of IWF’s Center for Economic Opportunity’s Working for Women Report.

Working wo...

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Carol Swain & Claudine Gay: Harvard’s President’s Embarrassing History of Plagiarism

The president of Harvard University has had a terrible, awful, no good, very bad month! Claudine Gay’s polarizing congressional testimony kicked off what has become weeks of embarrassment for the most elite university in the world. 

People are questioning the Harvard brand (and that of many other elite institutions) in the weeks since Hamas’ brutal attack against innocent Jews. The Claudine Gays of this world have been exposed for their hypocrisy about racial justice in the face of blatant antisemitism. Her inability or unwillingness to defend the safety of Jewish students against violent rhetoric was a colossal failure and demonstration of poor leadership. 

I’d like to believe that there are more academics and thought leaders with a moral compass and the moral competence to meet the moment. One such individual is former Princeton and Vanderbilt professor Dr. Carol Swain. Ironically, Swain is one of Gay’s victims in another burgeoning scandal.

Plagiarising the work of others and passing it off as one’s own is a common error, but it’s neither excusable nor acceptable. When diving into Gay’s academic work, Manhattan Institute fellow Christopher Rufo and others unearthed evidence of plagiarism. We know now that her career is littered with examples of bad judgment at moments when it counts. 

The university swatted down the allegations as just “a few instances of inadequate citation.” However, as of January 1st, the number of plagiarized passages in Claudine Gay’s academic work is approaching 50!

Even the bastions of liberal intellectualism—The Atlantic, Washington Post, New York Times—have abandoned her:

Damage from Gay’s past plagiarism is not just limited to Harvard’s brand but to the work of those she ripped off.

Dr. Carol Swain, now a senior fellow at the Institute for Faith and Culture and a co-author of “The Adversity of Diversity: How the Supreme Court’s Decision to Remove Race from College Admissions Criteria will Doom Diversity Programs,” but formerly a tenured professor at elite colleges, has a tremendous personal story. Her extensive and lauded work on race was a victim of Gay’s plagiarism as she lifted whole passages without attribution.

As Swain wrote in the Wall Street Journal recently,

Ms. Gay’s damage to me is aggravated because her early work was in the area where my research is considered seminal. Her scholarship on black congressional representation, electoral districting and descriptive representation builds on terrain where I plowed the ground.

… Ms. Gay ignored the substantive importance of my research, which she should have acknowledged and engaged. A single citation or two wouldn’t usually be considered intellectually honest.

When scholars aren’t cited adequately or their work is ignored, it harms them because academic stature is determined by how often other researchers cite your work. Ms. Gay had no problem riding on the coattails of people whose work she used without proper attribution…

Dr. Swain wasn’t the only one. 

Gay’s behavior didn’t just stop at plagiarism. Harvard Law School alumnus and form law professor, W. F. Twyman, Jr., wrote in Newsweek

Did you know that Claudine Gay during her Harvard career has repeatedly targeted and disrupted the careers of prominent Black male professors?

As he laid out two prominent cases of her destroying the careers of black academics at Harvard, it’s apparent that she does.

Gay is a product of some of what’s wrong with academia today: relaxed standards, lowered expectations, a lack of moral clarity, and no accountability for wrongdoing. 

Tune in as we talk live with Dr. Carol Swain about the race-driven rot in higher ed on Tuesday, Feb 6, 2024. Register Here.

Cooling Inflation Offers Little Relief This Thanksgiving

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that inflation as measured by the consumer price index (CPI) on all item...

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