The nation is not prepared to meet the housing needs of aging Americans, according to a new report by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies (JCHS) and the AARP Foundation.
As Americans continue to live longer, the number of adults aged 50 and older is expected to grow to 132 million by 2030. One in five Americans will be 65 and older in 2030, and one in eight people will be 75 and older in 2040.
Housing America’s Older Adults: Meeting the Needs of An Aging Population underscores the fact that there’s a shortage of accessible housing units and high housing cost burdens for seniors today, and the dramatic demographic changes coming down the road can only exacerbate the problems.
Seniors are at increased risks of financial stress, with typical household incomes dropping later in life. One-third of adults 50 and older paid more than 30 percent of their income for housing in 2012, with nearly 9.6 million severely cost-burdened seniors paying more than 50 percent of their income for housing.
Housing assistance also is limited for very low-income households 62 and older. In 2011, 3.9 million very low-income renter households were eligible for rental assistance, but only 1.4 million received the aid.
Current projections show that this gap will only continue to grow. Senior households eligible for rental assistance is expected to increase by 1.3 million between 2011 and 2020 and another 1.3 million between 2020 and 2030. If there aren’t any boosts in housing aid, there will be 4 million very low-income senior households by 2030 who will be left to find affordable and safe housing in the private market.
The report also shows that those with severe housing cost burdens spend much less on food and health care than those who can afford their housing.
Another staggering statistic is that a typical 65-year-old homeowner has enough wealth to afford in-home assistance for nearly nine years or assisted living for six and a half years, while typical renters of that age can only afford these services for two months.
“We’re going to face more challenges in the future. It’s a problem already, and it’s going to be a bigger problem,” says Chris Herbert, JCHS acting managing director. “But there’s still time to prepare.”
Herbert says there are a number of promising models today for housing and serving seniors, but more needs to be done to raise awareness and to understand the issues.
This will require efforts from all levels of the government as well as the nonprofit and private sectors, he says.
Former Department of Housing and Urban Development secretary and CityView chairman Henry Cisneros, who was the keynote speaker at the report release, agrees.
“Today’s report should be heard as a wake-up call,” he says. “We are aging. We are not ready. … We have some time, but we must think anew and plan comprehensively.”
Cisneros says it’s clear the nation needs more housing that’s appropriate for the various stages of aging. A vast majority of seniors want to stay in their homes, or age in place, and more tools are needed to make this housing more accessible. The nation also needs new approaches to independent living, new ways to pay for assisted living, more memory care units, and more skilled nursing facilities, he adds.