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Seniors Remain Vulnerable to Housing Market Fluctuations

In a new Housing Perspectives blog post by Jennifer Molinsky for the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University discusses the state of senior homeownership and four major problems that she feels need to be addressed soon as more and more boomers hit retirement. 

Molinsky, the Project Director of the Housing an Aging Society at JCHS, said that in just three years, the leading edge of the boomer generation will turn 80—by 2035, the Census Bureau projects that the population 80 and over will grow to nearly 24 million people, doubling what it was in 2016. And the fact that most of these older adults will live alone and on limited incomes, and many will have other factors such as health affecting their situation. 

The demand for affordable, accessible housing, with access to in-home services and neighborhood support systems is set to soar in the coming years, but Molinsky says as of right now, the country is falling well short and is failing to meet even todays’ demands. 

“First, there is enormous unmet need for affordable rental housing for older adults. Over 10 million households headed by someone 65 and over are cost burdened (paying more than a third of their income on housing); half of these pay more than 50%,” Molinsky said. “Nearly three-quarters of renters earning under $15,000 per year are cost burdened. 

“To compensate, households often cut back on food and medical care, which can be detrimental for those with chronic health conditions,” Molinsky continued. “Renters, often on fixed incomes, are particularly at risk of rising housing costs, and have a much smaller personal safety net: in 2019, the median older renter had a net wealth under $6,000.” 

She went on to say that the latest available data revealed that there were 2.2 million older “very low-income" residents were living in “worst case housing” defined as having severe cost burdens, inadequate housing, or both. 

Thirty-six percent of income eligible seniors receive federal housing assistance, expanding rental assistance can provide needed stability to these households and help address a growing homelessness crisis among older adults. 

“Affordability challenges are disproportionately felt by older people of color,” Molinsky said. “Longstanding disparities in access to well-paying jobs and homeownership opportunities have resulted in steep gaps in homeownership with white households and greater financial insecurity, particularly for older Black and Hispanic households.” 

The three other issues seniors are facing are: 

  • Second, very little of the nation’s housing stock offers even the most basic of accessibility features. Our analysis shows that less than 4 percent of homes offer a no-step entry, single-floor living, and wide enough doors and hallways to accommodate a wheelchair. Older people are also most likely to report difficulties entering, navigating, and using different parts of their homes. Support is needed for renters and property owners, as well as older homeowners, to make modifications and maintain housing in safe condition. 
  • Third, the need for assistance and services that support older adults with activities of daily living and household tasks is escalating. Service-enriched affordable housing has been shown to support independence—and reduce healthcare costs—but need outstrips supply. Demand will grow for supports and services delivered to middle-income older adults who typically cannot afford assisted living settings. 
  • Fourth, our research shows that many older adults live in places that lack livability features, such as neighborhood services, transportation alternatives, safe streets, and opportunities for engagement. These all contribute to wellbeing, and can even combat isolation and loneliness, both serious health issues in their own right. 

The author concluded by saying that these problems could be fixed with “comprehensive and coordinated policies” to build, preserve, and retrofit affordable housing, and to connect seniors to groups and services in their area. 

“We can ensure that the oldest people in our nation have housing that provides a sound foundation for a good quality of life. But the time to act is now—the need is already great and will only become more so.” 

Click here to read the blog post in its entirety. 

About Author: Kyle G. Horst

Kyle G. Horst is a reporter for DS News and MReport. A graduate of the University of Texas at Tyler, he has worked for a number of daily, weekly, and monthly publications in South Dakota and Texas. With more than 10 years of experience in community journalism, he has won a number of state, national, and international awards for his writing and photography including best newspaper design by the Associated Press Managing Editors Group and the international iPhone photographer of the year by the iPhone Photography Awards. He most recently worked as editor of Community Impact Newspaper covering a number of Dallas-Ft. Worth communities on a hyperlocal level. Contact Kyle G. at [email protected].

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