Toward quality affordable housing for elders: A platform for life satisfaction, comfort, and aging-in-place.

Presented by: Jung-hye Shin

This study examined daily activity patterns of Korean ethnic minority elders who reside in affordable housing complexes in the Chicago Metropolitan area, focusing on how the physical design of their residential environments support or inhibit their cultural lifestyles and overall comfort. The theoretical framework of environmental satisfaction and human comfort and its four adaptive behaviors (Shin 2015; cf. Morris and Winter 1978; Jorn and Shin 2013; Bronfenbrenner 1999) are employed to organize and interpret heterogeneous sets of data. This study is a part of a larger study that examined 138 Korean immigrant elders in affordable housing in the Greater Chicago area (Shin 2014). The original study employed: (1) in-depth qualitative interviews within each residential unit about their daily activities; (2) physical survey of units, which included quantitative evaluations, photo documentation, and the elders’ comments on each rooms; (3) survey of their activities throughout the city using Geographic Information System (GIS). The field survey resulted in nearly 1,000 images that recorded the interior/exterior of the housing and around 250 hours of interview narratives. The three sets of data are synthesized to identify the design features that supported or restricted their daily activities. The areas where misfits occur between elder’s behavioral patterns and functionality of physical environment were first identified. Such misfits were identified whenever the elders showed one or more of four adaptive behaviors: physical adaptation, behavioral adaptation, normative adaptation, and withdrawal. The root causes of the adaptive behaviors were then translated into spatial terms: building site and orientation, spatial organization, finishes and materials, and functional supportiveness of amenities. This finally lead to planning and design recommendations at three levels: Urban, community, and individual unit. The urban level recommendations include careful choice of building sites in order to increase: (1) building’s proximity to amenities; (2) connectivity to urban infrastructure. Amenities include key ethno specific businesses such as bank, grocery store, adult day care, as well as non-ethno specific business such as fast food restaurants and urban parks for daily walking exercise. The urban infrastructure includes multiple public transportation systems such as subway, bus, and community organized shared ride system overlaid together to aid elders to get around within the city. The importance of connection to highways is also highlighted to help elders stay connected to their adult children, who regularly visit from suburban areas. The building level recommendations include careful building orientation, provision of diverse spaces for socialization and territorialization by individual ethnic groups, grouping of residential units for different ethnic groups while allowing social integration at the community level, provision of building entranceways that allows surveillance, social interaction, and comfortable waiting for transportation, and finally, provision of parking space for family visits. The unit level issues were largely connected to building orientations and overall building configurations (double-loaded vs. single-loaded corridor). Careful building orientation and opportunities for cross ventilation could address critical issues of odor/temperature/light control at the unit level. Finishes and materials that are easy to maintain, and amenities that are functionally supportive are also suggested. Such provision should be accompanied by flexible management policies, which take account sensitive issues of aging, poverty, and ethnic/racial conflicts. The findings from the field indicate that multi-level collaboration among policy makers, urban planners, architects, and interior designers is key to creating environments where elders can successfully age-in-place.


  • Bronfenbrenner, Urie. 1999. “Measuring Environment across the Life Span: Emerging Methods and Concepts.” In Measuring Environment across the Life Span, edited by S. L. Friedman and T. D. Wachs, 3–28. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association Press.
  • Jorn, Myunghee, and Jung-hye Shin. 2013. “Cultural Attributes and Recreating Home: Residential Experiences of Korean Elderly Immigrants in Affordable Housing.” In Healthy + Healing Places. Providence, RI: Environmental Design Research Association.
  • Morris, Earl W., and Mary Winter. 1978. Housing, Family, and Society. New York: Wiley.
  • Shin, Jung-hye. 2015. “Toward a Theory of Environmental Satisfaction and Human Comfort: A Process-Oriented and Contextually Sensitive Theoretical Framework.” Accepted for publication. Journal of Environmental Psychology.
  • Shin, Jung-hye. 2014. “Living Independently as an Ethnic Minority Elder: A Relational Perspective on the Issues of Aging and Ethnic Minority.” American Journal of Community Psychology 53 (3-4): 433–46. doi:10.1007/s10464-014-9650-6.