Report Cautions Housing Crisis Looms From Nation’s Older Households

November 14, 2018

More households are increasingly being headed by older adults—50 or older--and that requires different types of housing to meet this aging group’s needs and preferences, according to “Housing America’s Older Adults 2018,” a new report released by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. The report found that more than half of the nation’s households—some 65 million--are now headed by someone at least 50 years of age.

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The report warns that many households in their 50s and early 60s may not be financially prepared for retirement—much fewer than previous generations were at the same age. Nearly a third of households age 65 or older pay at least 30 percent of their income for housing, while more than half pay more than 50 percent. Most financial experts consider more than 30 percent of income toward housing to be “cost burdened.”

“We need to address gaps in the affordability and accessibility of our housing stock, both of which are essential to older adults’ independence and well-being,” says Jennifer Molinsky, the lead author of the report. “As the number of households in their 80s grows, it will be essential that we strengthen the links between housing, healthcare, and other services.”

The report warns that America doesn’t have enough accessible units to serve the nation’s aging population. In 2016, 17 percent of households aged 50 and over included someone who had difficulty climbing stairs or walking. However, only 4.5 percent of U.S. homes have three features considered key for those with mobility challenges: single-floor living, no-step entries, and extra-wide halls and doors.

Further, many of the most vulnerable in the aging population live alone. The share of households 80 and over with only one resident is 57 percent; for renters, that percentage jumps to 77 percent. “Single-person households in need of support or care must rely on non-resident or paid caregivers, yet they also [tend to] have lower incomes than larger households,” the report notes.

The growing number of low-income older households and limited federal subsidies suggests “that gaps in affordable housing will continue to widen, resulting in more older adults forced to cut back on necessities in order to pay for housing,” the report notes. “Responding to these challenges will require a coordinated response from the nation’s public, private, and nonprofit actors.”

Housing America’s Older Adults 2018,” Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies (2018)