By 2030, 73 million Americans will be at least 65 years old. By 2040, 28 million will be 80 or older. And this has housing analysts are wondering where they’re all going to live.
Average life spans are lengthening; people who celebrate their 65th birthdays this year can expect to be around for at least 20 more years, statistics show.
A new report by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies finds that the U.S. isn’t prepared to house its growing elderly population. One reason: The housing needs of octogenarians are different from those of younger homeowners. The disabilities and immobility that often accompany old age call for single-floor living, wide doorways, curbless showers with enough room for a walker or wheelchair and electrical controls, among other accommodations that most homes simply do not feature.
Plus, retirees who have outlived their incomes or are living on fixed finances and look for affordable housing will find it, in many communities, in short supply. The Joint Center estimates that Americans age 50 and older spend 30% to 50% of their incomes on housing.
The vast majority of older Americans would prefer to live in their family homes as they age. A 2012 report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that just 3% of retirement-age homeowners moved during the prior year, compared with 14% of people younger than 65.
But many won’t be able to stay put once their health takes a turn for the worst and they find their homes would need expensive renovations if they were to continue living in them.
In that case, they might move to senior housing complexes, a report by Fannie Mae suggests, but most older homeowners—and younger ones for that matter—simply don’t want to.
A ‘potential crisis’
Another Joint Center study, conducted with the AARP Foundation, also predicts a lack of affordable homes to accommodate the physical limitations of an aging population. One Forbes writer concludes from its findings that “a potential housing crisis [is] coming.”
Jonathan Smoke, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors, agrees: “We’re fairly ill prepared to address the housing needs and challenges” of the largest generation of senior
The Harvard study, Housing America’s Older Adults: Meeting the Needs of an Aging Population, identifies three areas of concern:
- The cost of housing is high—and climbing, with no slack in sight. As home prices and rents rise, the incomes of senior citizens are not keeping pace. That could force low-income older adults to skimp on food and medicine so they can pay for housing.
- Suburban and rural areas aren’t great spots to “age in place.” Without ready access to public transportation, the elderly suburbanite needs a car. And about a quarter of drivers give up their cars in their ’80s, a move that isolates them.
- Older homes aren’t accommodating to older people. Fewer than 60% of houses and apartments are equipped with even one “universal design” feature, like doorways and halls wide enough for a walker or wheelchair; levers instead of knobs on doors; curbless showers and entryways; cabinets at eye level; slip-free floors; and extra task lighting in the kitchen. One reason: It’s expensive to retrofit a home with accessibility features.
State governments are starting to pitch in with tax credits and other incentives for builders who include accessible features in new homes; rental subsidies; consumer loans for universal design remodeling; and volunteers to build affordable housing for seniors near public transportation.
10 cities with large senior populations
Many 50- and 60-year-olds are preparing for their golden years by gravitating to cities traditionally known for their youth culture, says Realtor.com. The 10 metropolitan areas with the fastest-growing population of 55-plus residents are: Williston, ND; Gillette, WY; Summit Park, UT; Dickinson, ND; Austin/Round Rock, TX; Junction City, KS; Juneau, AK; Andrews, TX; Elko, NV; and Raleigh, NC.