Growing housing challenges for our older Americans

Growing housing challenges for our older Americans

Thursday, January 03, 2019 from Floor Covering Weekly

With the aging of baby boomers and delayed rate that Millennials have been establishing households, more than half of the nation’s households are now headed by someone at least 50 years of age. These 65 million older households often are attempting to manage with inadequate financial resources, and declining health and functional abilities. This challenge is expected to grow in the future as the oldest baby boomers start to turn 80 in less than a decade, the need for accessible units and supportive services will grow increasingly urgent. Meanwhile, households in their 50s to mid-60s are at risk of having insufficient resources to manage rising healthcare and housing costs in their later years.

These are some of the key finding of Housing America’s Older Adults 2018, and new report from the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. In particular, the report identifies five concerns for this population related to their housing situation.

Nontraditional Living Arrangements — Whether out of preference or necessity, many older adults double up with others. The share of older adults living with roommates or housemates, boarders, or other non-family members is on the increase. Multigenerational living arrangements also are becoming more common. In 2016, nearly 11 million older adults lived in households where at least two related generations were present.

Renting on the Rise — Homeownership rates for older adults across the board are lower than in the past. The rate for adults already in their retirement years (age 65 and over) has dropped below its pre-recession level, while the rate for households aged 50–64 has declined steadily since 2004. As a result, nearly a quarter of households age 50 and over rent their housing. Older renters are more likely than older owners to live alone. When they need assistance or supportive services, these single-person households must rely on non-resident caregivers or paid professionals.

Growing Locational Isolation — The share of older adults living in low density areas has grown by 25 percent since 2000. The geographic dispersion of older households is significant because lower-density areas are more difficult to service and typically provide few housing options other than single-family homes. The growing presence of older adults in lower-density communities largely results from aging in place. Households, particularly homeowners, are less apt to relocate as they age.

The Burden of High Housing Costs — The number of households age 65 and over with housing cost burdens continues to climb. In 2016 nearly a third spent more than 30 percent of their incomes for housing, the threshold for considering a household to be cost burdened. Just over half of these were severely burdened, paying at least half their incomes for housing. Renters are more likely than owners to be cost burdened, including 47 percent of those aged 50–64, 53 percent of those aged 65–79, and 58 percent of those age 80 and over.

Shortage of Accessible Housing — Accessible housing becomes increasingly important for older adults as their functional limitations increase. In 2016, over a quarter of households age 50 and over included a member with at least one disability. Few homes are accessible to people with mobility problems, particularly those requiring the use of a wheelchair. According to the latest available estimates from 2011, only 3.5 percent of US homes had single-floor living, no-step entry, and extra-wide halls and doors. If electrical controls reachable from a wheelchair and lever-style handles on doors or faucets are included in the list, the share drops to just 0.9 percent. The lack of accessibility features in much of the nation’s housing stock will make it difficult for older adults to age safely in place without making certain home modifications.

Copies of Housing America’s Older Adults 2018 are available free for download at

Kermit Baker is the senior research fellow for the Joint Center of Housing Studies at Harvard University. He may be reached via e-mail at [email protected].