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January 2017

Aging boomers underscore a need for innovative approaches

Demand improved policies for more affordable, accessible housing

Growing Population coverInnovative approaches for accommodating the housing needs of an exponential growth in the population of people age 65-plus are essential, according to a new report from the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University.

The implications of the aging population on the US housing industry "are unambiguous," said Lisa Marsh Ryerson, president of AARP Foundation, which provided funding for the report.

By 2035, more than twenty percent of the US population will be 65 and older and about a third of all households will be headed by someone in that age group, the report states. This cohort is projected to grow from 48 million to 79 million. Nearly 50 million households will be headed by someone older than 65, an increase of 66 percent.

Such growth, coupled with this group's expressed desire to live in their homes for as long as possible, means an increased demand for homes with universal design elements such as zero-step entrances, single-floor living, and wide halls and doorways. Currently, only 3.5 percent of homes offer all three of these age-in-place features.

Titled Projections and Implications for Housing a Growing Population: Older Adults 2015-2035, the report notes there are many housing implications associated with the surge.

In the next few decades, many older adults will have sufficient assets to pay for appropriate housing and supportive services that allow them to live longer in their own homes.

Researchers said millions of others will lack those financial means. Many others whose incomes will decline in retirement will face financial hardships. Low-income renters are particularly vulnerable, the report notes.

Nearly 6.4 million low-income renters will be paying more than 30 percent of their income for housing by 2035. An estimated 8.6 million people will be paying more than half their incomes for housing by that time.

The report's authors also expect 7.6 million older adults will have incomes that would qualify them for federal rent subsidies within the next two decades, an increase of 90 percent from 2013.

"Today, we only serve one-third of those who qualify for assistance," noted Jennifer Molinsky, lead author of the report. "Just continuing at this rate - which would be a stretch - would leave 4.9 million people to find affordable housing in the private market," added Molinsky, a senior research associate at the Joint Center.

Researchers concluded both public and private action "will be needed to support modifications to existing homes, take steps to address the affordability challenges facing both owners and renters, and adapting the health care system to enhance service delivery in the home." They also believe there is a need to expand the range of housing options available to better meet the needs of an aging population and to improve options for older adults to remain in their community when their current home is no longer suitable. 

The AARP Foundation president also emphasized the housing industry, policymakers, and individuals must take action in the coming years "to address the need for housing that will enable millions of older adults in this country to live with security, dignity, and independence."