A report issued on September 2 by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University and the AARP Foundation finds that the nation is unprepared to meet the housing needs of aging Americans. By 2030, the number of people over age 65 is projected to reach 73 million, or one in five Americans, but the supply of housing suitable and affordable to this population will not be sufficient.
As the population ages, the number of low income, older adults is anticipated to rise sharply. By 2024, the number of households aged 65 and over with incomes less than $15,000 is expected to rise 37%, or by 1.8 million households. However, with declining incomes among households during their peak-earning, pre-retirement years, and with far fewer workers benefiting from pension plans, the number of low income, older adult households may rise even more than projected.
By age 85, two in three older adults have difficulty with hearing, vision, cognition, or mobility. The incidence of disabilities varies by income, with 45% of those with less than $15,000 facing at least one disability or limitation, compared to just 14% of those with $75,000 or more. Many older adults may need to make modifications to their homes as their physical limitations increase.
Just 1% of all housing units have the five design features that make homes accessible to those with disabilities, and two out of five have just one feature or none at all. Only 551,000 unassisted units with rents below $400 have at least three universal design features. While HUD-assisted rental units are more likely to have accessibility features, their availability is limited.
Half of renters aged 50-64 face a housing cost burden, spending more than 30% of their income for rent and utilities. Sixty percent of renters over age 80 face this burden. Housing cost burden is also common among older homeowners with a mortgage. While just one third of owners aged 50-64 with a mortgage face a housing cost burden, 61% over age 80 do. Seventy-seven percent of all households with incomes less than $15,000 over the age of 50 face a housing cost burden, 99% of those with a mortgage and 75% of those that rent.
While an estimated 3.9 million households over age 62 qualified for housing assistance in 2011, just 1.4 million received assistance. This gap is expected to grow as the population of low income older renters rises. By 2020, the number of older households eligible for rental assistance is estimated to rise by 1.3 million, but the supply of affordable housing assistance is unlikely to keep pace. Many older adults are assisted through HUD’s Section 202 program, which provides housing with supportive services. The program funds the gap between the costs of providing housing and what tenants can afford to pay in rent. However, many Section 202 contracts will expire over the coming years. By 2024, up to 41,900 units may no longer remain affordable. Further, the program no longer provides capital grants to fund the development of new senior housing.
The report recommends several policy changes to better serve the aging population, including promoting the development of accessory dwelling units, and tax incentives to allow older adults to make age-appropriate modifications to their homes. The report also urges coordination of programs providing affordable housing and supportive health services. With the costs of assisted living often prohibitive, developing alternate models of age-restricted affordable housing with services is increasingly important.
The report, Housing America’s Older Adults: Meeting the Needs of an Aging Population, is at http://bit.ly/1umYrKY