More affordable and middle-market housing options are going to be needed as the next generation of older adults approaches average senior living age.
A new report, compiled by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, detailed the looming generation of boomers, the oldest of which are turning 80 in the coming years. The number of older adults 65 years or older grew from 43 million in 2012 to 58 million in 2022, a 34% increase, according to data cited by the report’s authors.
Additionally, the number of older adults becoming cost burdened – defined as an older adult spending more than 30% of income on housing – has reached an all-time high, with 11.2 million recorded in 2021. The report’s authors wrote this is a “significant increase” compared to the 9.7 million in 2016.
Housing is not the only expense that older adults must worry about. They also struggle with the burden of care costs. Just under three-quarters of older adults age 65 or older will at some point in the future need long-term care for an average period of three years. Just under a quarter will need such care for five years, according to the report.
Over half of the households were considered to be severely cost burdened, where they were spending over half of their income on housing costs. Across 97 metro areas that the National Investment Center for Senior Housing and Care (NIC) tracks, only 13% of older adults could afford median-priced assisted living in their area, and only 14% could afford four hour service visits.
“Only a modest share of older adults can afford either minimal daily service at home or a move to assisted living,” the report’s author wrote. “As the population ages and as housing and care costs increase, more older adults will struggle to afford either the home of their choice or the care they need, and in many cases, both.”
The report also indicates the “urgent need” for more affordable housing options is only going to grow moving forward due to a widening gap of wealth income inequality, which only grows more urgent if an older adult is a renter rather than a homeowner prior to moving into senior housing.
Nearly three-fourths of older adults live in single-family homes and 20% live in some kind of multifamily housing, such as an apartment building, according to the report. The amount of older adults moving to multifamily increases with age for a variety of reasons, including cost savings and reduced responsibilities for maintenance and amenities. Data in the report indicates in 2021, just under a quarter of renters in multifamily housing were between 65 and 79 years old, and 39% were 80 or older.
During a webinar over the report, Robert Kramer, founder and strategic advisor for NIC, noted there has been a sentiment of assisted living and senior housing being too expensive, but the report shows that it is not the case.
“The challenge is that getting the long term care services you need together with having safe and secure housing is unaffordable to many, not just low income individuals,” Kramer said.
A report by the NORC at the University of Chicago, released in August, projects that the number of middle-income seniors will grow by 89%.
“Leaders from the public, private and nonprofit sectors have abundant opportunities to address the mismatch between a rapidly aging population and an insufficient supply of affordable, accessible housing connected to services and supports,” the report states.
An additional factor for the increasing number of older adults is their infrequency to relocate, which the report states only 5% of households aged 65 and up had relocated in the previous year between 2016 and 2021. When they did move, the two main reasons cited for doing so were housing and family. Health reasons were also mentioned by 16% of movers.
When moving, around 80% stayed within the same state they resided in, though those that opted to move states were noted to relocate to Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and Arizona.
Outside of government assistance, the report indicates zoning reform and housing financing incentives could be possible solutions that could encourage more options for older adults wishing to remain within their communities.
The report also notes the increasing demand of federal assistance programs, with 5.9 million renters over the age of 62 that were over-eligible for rental assistance in 2021, a nearly 50% increase compared to 2011, and voucher programs could serve 36.5% of households seeking them out.
The report also states that federal housing programs have not been able to keep up with the demand as well.
Looking ahead, there will be more older households with very low incomes, and thus, a growing need for affordable housing and care options in the future. More options need to be available, Kramer said the options going forward cannot be pitted against one another so seniors can choose to remain either at home or moving where needed.
“Consequently, demand will increase for housing that is both affordable and able to accommodate older adults’ changing health and care needs,” the report states.
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