Ageism, Employment, and Innovative Housing Solutions for Older Adults

with Elizabeth White,

Founder, NuuAge Coliving

This week on the Art of Aging, we revisit a great conversation from a previous episode as Rev. Beth Long-Higgins chats with Elizabeth White, author, aging advocate, and Founder of NuuAge Coliving. During the episode, Elizabeth shares her personal experience with ageism and her shift from employment advocacy to housing solutions for older adults. Elizabeth discusses her book “55, Underemployed, and Faking Normal,” her TED talk, and her venture, NuuAge Co-Living. She highlights her efforts to create affordable, community-oriented housing for middle-income older adults, addressing issues like loneliness and the need for supportive environments. Elizabeth’s vision includes integrating amenities, fostering community connections, and so much more!
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Highlights from this week’s conversation include:

  • Introducing the Art of Aging summer series (0:16)
  • Welcoming Elizabeth White (1:29)
  • Elizabeth’s Lived Experience (2:28)
  • Transition from Employment Advocacy to Housing Solutions (5:33)
  • Challenges of Aging Alone and Housing Needs (11:29)
  • Development of Community Living Concept (13:00)
  • Success and Growth of Plus 50 Entrepreneurs (16:56)


Abundant Aging is a podcast series presented by United Church Homes. These shows offer ideas, information, and inspiration on how to improve our lives as we grow older. To learn more and to subscribe to the show, visit


Michael Hughes 00:04
Hello, and this is Mike. I’m one of the hosts of the abundant aging podcast.

Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 00:08
And this is Beth on the other host for the podcast. And I think this is the first time, Mike, that you and I have appeared together on the podcast.

Michael Hughes 00:16
But it’s certainly not the last time, Beth and we’re looking forward to some upcoming shows where you and I can really unpack kind of the foundational tropes of ageism. And I think hopefully use that as a great foundation leading into our symposium in October, right?

Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 00:30
Absolutely. It’ll be October 4 2020 For this year, and more information and teasing about that in the upcoming weeks. In the meantime, we’re taking a little bit of a summer break here, and I’m going to invite you to revisit some of the fantastic conversations that we’ve had over the course of the past year or so.

Michael Hughes 00:51
That’s right. So absolutely, make sure to stay tuned and listen to more of great content that you’ve already enjoyed. And please send us your ideas for future guests future episodes, whatever you need to share or whatever you’d like to share at abundant ag Looking

Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 01:07
forward to hearing from you and to providing new episodes coming a little bit later this summer. Thanks all for participating and, and listening in and being with us here on the abundant aging podcast.

Michael Hughes 01:22
Thanks for listening. I’ll look forward to seeing you guys back in the fall.

Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 01:29
Elizabeth has risen to recent fame through her role as an author and an advocate in the aging space. Her book 55 underemployed and faking normal documents her struggle and the struggle of many that are over the age of 50 to find meaningful, sustained employment, and it launched her advocacy for ending ageism and being a champion for older workers. We can now add the word entrepreneur to her accomplishments with her launch of new age co living, a developing concept and community living that aims to serve the middle middle market and middle income market in a way that supports Abundant Living and aging. So definitely it can kindred spirit to what we’re doing here at United Church homes. Elizabeth holds advanced degrees from Harvard and John Hopkins and as a distinguished employee history that of course, includes her work today. Welcome, Elizabeth. No, thank

Elizabeth White 02:26
you so much for having me.

Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 02:28
So I’ll start where it matters most. Let’s start where does your passion for this topic come from? Well, I did a high level overview but from your words and helping to share your passion, can you share the part of the story that you’d like our listeners to know about today that’s launched your work. So

Elizabeth White 02:51
It comes from my own lived experience. I’m someone who for many years was doing really well. And then during the Great Recession of 2008, nine, slipped on a banana peel and lost two big consulting jobs that I’d had for a long time. I was sort of mid 50s, then I have the credentials that you described, not worried. I’ve always been able to find work. And suddenly, in my mid 50s My phone was not ringing. And a woman I talked to said that one of my friends is an Emmy award winning producer. She wasn’t finding work, somebody who had been very, very senior in the government was not finding work. And at a point of real despair, I wrote an essay describing what it is like to land here, when you feel a sort of face pressed up against the glass, looking in at a life that used to be yours. But now you can’t afford that life, and wondering if you will ever get back. And that essay made its way to the PBS Facebook page, and in a matter of days had 1000s and 1000s of responses that went viral. And it was a lot of me too, that this is my husband or my sister or myself, and why aren’t we having a conversation about this? And my educational background allows me to look at the data. And what I thought was just a challenge that I was facing and a few friends. I began to understand that millions of middle class Americans are also struggling. So these would be people who are earning too much to get any government assistance. But don’t make enough for example to afford market rate housing for all older adults. And that sort of started me on a path.

Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 05:07
Yeah. So I think that that’s probably the link then from your talking about your book and your advocacy, about ageism in the workplace to housing. So talk a little bit more about where you’ve ended up from employment to tenant to housing.

Elizabeth White 05:33
So the journey was I did this essay. And what happens when you do an essay that goes viral is that people find your email address. So in the comments, they may write three, four sentences, but in their emails, to me, it would be a page and a half single space of what had happened. And then what happened, somebody will say, I live in DC, they’ll say, I’m gonna be in Washington, can you have a coffee and I got more and more involved in hearing stories. And that’s how my first self published book was born, sort of. I had seen a lot of books that were sort of, you know, kind of Think Tank, Brookings Institute wrote about the retirement income crisis. And it was geared towards, you know, legislators, but there was nothing that if you personally landed here, if you were facing this, if this happened to you, there was not that book and all that you feel a sense of failure and fear, nobody had written that book. So I, as I spoke with people, started to share not just my story, but the stories of many others, men and women. And men in particular, I wanted them to tell their own story, because when men land here, particularly for white men, ageism is often the first time they’ve experienced any kind of ism, where up on site, people have a negative opinion of you. And so I asked men that I was encountering in my book to actually write the stories in their own words, and then I edited it for length. So that then led to a book deal with Simon and Schuster, because one of the things when you self publish, it’s harder to get into libraries. Many libraries don’t take self published books and for my audience, people needed to be able to get the book in the library. And then there were some independent bookstores that didn’t take self published books and got wet. So when Simon and Schuster gave me an opportunity to update the data and relaunch it, and gave it a bigger audience. And also at that time, I did a TEDx talk where the TED people approached me about taking the TEDx talk, and moving it to the main TED stage, which then blew up in numbers, it’s now got over 2 million views. So all these things were happening simultaneously. I am someone who throws a lot of spaghetti at the wall, you don’t know what’s gonna land. And I’m also someone who has friends across the age spectrum from early 30s, to into their 90s. My younger friends, in some ways, are more plugged in, in terms of who are the rising stars? What are the trends? Where are the work opportunities, entrepreneurial opportunities, etc. And a friend and colleague, many years younger, decades younger, said to me there is this startup studio, that they will fund ideas, and they will significantly support these ideas you should apply. So of course, I’m 68. At the time, I had been an entrepreneur before, and I know exactly the heavy lift that is, and then I thought, I’m gonna try it. So it had four rounds of interviews. And when I was told that I had made it from the second to the third round, and that now I’m a serious contender, I thought, let me pull my socks up here and really focus on this. And so, two years ago, I was told that I was accepted. So there were five of us, where this is idea 42 And they invested about 800,000 to a million dollars per person in your idea. And I was the oldest by far. I felt a little bit like Grandma Moses there. Everybody was, you know, half my age and so it was an opportunity to look at I had been sounding the alarm and advocating, what would I do if I wanted to work on the solution side. And what I was hearing, as I went around the country talking to people, was about housing. Because housing is often our biggest expense. It is sort of foundational in terms of our health and well being. And though many people want to age at home, many of our homes are not suited, you know, from a half step, or they don’t have a bathroom on the main floor, or they’re just not affordable, or something’s happened to the neighborhood. So a lot of people who want to age at home, it’s something like only 4% of the US housing stock is actually suitable for doing that. So I thought, let me think about housing. And I was also thinking about the number of people who are aging, alone. And meaning, possibly never married, divorced, maybe widowed, or maybe they even have children. But their children are not in a position to help them. You know, I think about when I was growing up, and my grandfather died, I was a little girl, my grandmother came to live with my family for 25 years. She lived with us. Nowadays, in many families, there’s no place to put Nana, there is no money to support Nana, and also, you know, the rest of the family. So you have a lot of people who maybe do have children, but they’re still in many ways aging alone. So that got me thinking about the housing situation, the aging alone, the affordability, the loneliness epidemic that we’re facing? And is there a way to kind of hit on and address all of those

Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 11:55
thinking about individuals who find themselves alone, and are, I think they think I know where you’re going a little bit with this. But aging is not a solo sport. And we need to have, you know, to use the sports metaphor, we need to have teams of people around us in varying levels of proximity and relationships. So what I hear you talking about is kind of combining that with this foundational literally and figuratively need for housing. So where are you in, in, in the journey then in, in finding solutions, because that’s what that’s what you’re working on. So what the

Elizabeth White 12:45
ideas 42 Venture studio did then suddenly I had resources to hire experts. I could hire architects, I could hire people who knew real estate, I could hire people who knew shared housing, I could go to Amsterdam to the CO living conference where the Europeans are really big on this. And they’ll start to understand and think about best practice, we do co living in the US, but often that’s for millennials. And in Europe, I found there was much more of a community aspect here. It’s almost like the CO living is a perch. And then the younger person really lives in the neighborhood, but it’s almost like an extension of a dorm living from college. And I wanted to see if I could do something more if I could. Rather than have sort of dorm rooms around a shared living space could we actually have private quarters smaller ones but around a shared living space, so that in your private quarters you do have a sitting area sleeping area, you have an ensuite bathroom, there’s like a kitchenette. So if you wanted to do grilled cheese and some tomato soup, you could do that in there if you did not want to cook in the larger kitchen, which is in the shared space. So I have been designing this working with architects here and overseas and sort of have like now an initial concept of what this could look like. And then town started thinking about where could it be wanting it to be in an area that is amenitized to some extent, so that there is a grocery store, there is a library, there is a coffee shop or a yoga studio, and then figuring out how to do that if you do it in a major city. It becomes really expensive in terms of all the you know, getting the land and building there. So lately I’ve been looking at some Small towns that are near big cities and where there are amenities there and their restaurants and an outdoor market. And it may be an hour away from the big city. So you can go out there live and then pop into the metropolitan area if there’s some play or something that you want to see. So all of this is what I’m working out. And I’ve gotten funding support to really flesh out these ideas and to develop an investment package that would allow me then to talk to developers, because I’m very interested in what older adults tell me I want to be an island old people who want to be in the mix. And so kind of thinking about, is there a development where there are maybe on some of the floors, you know, it’s multifamily housing, and then I have two or three floors where this concept is there, and sort of figuring out what kind of amenities might even be in there. You know, I’ve had people talk to me about, could there be a clinic on one floor? Or could there be, you know, some sort of eatery? And then how do you bring the outdoors in? Should it only be available to people in the building? Or is there a way of integrating the community around it? So these are all the conversations that I’m having. Now with the base of the drawings, there isn’t a team. You know, we’re continuing to talk. There is some funding to get me to this next level. So it is like a turnstile? 70. Last month, so congratulations.

Elizabeth White 16:56
And, in fact, the plus 50 entrepreneurs were one of the fastest growing segments. I think people don’t know that, but we are.

Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 17:05
And you’re also in terms of a cohort, the most successful

Elizabeth White 17:11
and entrepreneurial part of that, which Yeah,

Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 17:14
yeah, I think after five years, if you’re over 15 have started a business you’re more likely to still be in business than then those who are younger. Absolutely.