America’s aging population faces serious challenges when it comes to housing, according to a new report released by Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies (JCHS).
The Housing America’s Older Adults 2019report, which supplements the JCHS’ annual State of the Nation’s Housing report, examines income and homeownership disparities as well as housing costs for the growing number of older Americans.
The number of households headed by someone 65 or older jumped between 2012 and 2017, from 27 million to 31 million. The growing population in the oldest age group will lift the share of all households 65 older to 34% in 2038.
Some key findings from the report include:
- Most older adults live in single-family homes. Of the 24 million homeowners 65 and older in 2017, almost 80% lived in detached single-family units. However, the majority of these homes are at least 40 years old and can present challenges for the senior residents. Of the nation’s nearly 7 million older renters, about 22% live in single-family homes while most live in multifamily housing.
- For households in the 50- to 64-year-old range, this group is approaching retirement with lower homeownership rates than those of the previous generation at the same age. In addition for this age group, the median income for the highest earners reached a new record of almost $204,000 in 2017 while the median income for the lowest earners was at $14,400, lower than 2000’s $17,100.
- In terms of household wealth, senior homeowners were far ahead of renters. In 2016, according to the report, the median homeowner age 65 and older had a net wealth of $319,200 and $143,500 in home equity, while the net wealth of a renter in the same age group was $6,700.
- Homeowners who had paid off their mortgages had lower housing costs at a median of $458 per month while renters’ monthly costs were $830 and households with mortgages saw monthly costs around $1,300.
- A growing share of older households are carrying housing and other types of debt. Thirty years ago, only 24% of homeowners 65 to 79 and 3% older than 80 had outstanding mortgages, home equity loans, or home equity lines of credit. However, in 2016, 46% of homeowners 65 to 79 and 26% of owners 80 and older had mortgage debt.
- From 2016 to 2017, the nation saw the number of cost-burdened households 65 and older—those paying more than 30% of income for housing costs—grow by over 200,000 to reach a new high of nearly 10 million. This includes 5 million households that were severely cost-burdened, paying over 50% of their income on housing. A larger share of cost-burdened households were renters, 54% versus 26%. However, the number of cost-burdened owners is greater, 6.3 million versus 3.6 million because of the high homeownership rate. In addition, 43% of homeowners with a mortgage were cost-burdened in 2017, while only 16% of owners without a mortgage had cost burdens.
- Older households with cost burdens may cut back on essential needs for their health and well-being. Severely cost-burdened households 65 and older and in the bottom quartile of expenditures spent only $195 on food per month in 2018 while those without burdens spent almost twice that with an average of $368.
- Homelessness among aging Americans also has been on the rise. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2017 Annual Homeless Assessment Report, those 62 and older living in emergency shelters or transitional housing increased by about 69% to nearly 76,000 over a decade.
With economic and homeownership inequality growing within the aging population and many households slow to recover after the Great Recession, the report suggests that these disparities will only continue.
“Addressing these issues will require a concerted action at all levels of government,” says Jennifer Molinsky, a JCHS senior researcher and lead author of the report. “This is especially true as the leading edge of baby boomers reaches their 80s in the next decade and the need for affordable and accessible housing increases.”