JCHS Report Highlights Housing Needs of America’s Older Adult Population

On November 14, Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies (JCHS) published “Housing America’s Older Adults” exploring the housing trends of older adults and identifying challenges that face this growing population. The new report, which supplements JCHS’s “State of the Nation’s Housing,” warns that the "baby boomer" generation (which will soon begin turning 80) will increasingly need more accessible and supportive housing than is currently available. The report also cautions that many households in their 50s and 60s may not be financially prepared for retirement and could be at risk of being unable to meet their housing and healthcare needs in their later years.

According to JCHS’s report, 55 percent of U.S. households are now headed by someone age 50 or over, growing from 59.5 million households in 2011 to 65 million in 2016. Further, as baby boomers age, the number of households in their 70s, 80s, and 90s will more than double by 2037. Many of these older adults are burdened by housing costs, with nearly a third of households age 65 or older paying at least 30 percent of their income on housing and more than half of those paying over 50 percent on housing.

Accessibility is also a serious challenge facing older adults. There are not enough accessible units to serve the growing population with physical challenges. The report finds that, in 2016, 17 percent of households age 50 and over had someone with mobility challenges (including 43 percent of those age 80 and over) and yet only 3.5 percent of US homes had features for those with mobility challenges, including single-floor living, no-step entries, and extra-wide halls and doors. While JCHS estimates that three out of four older adults live in single-family homes, it also notes the share living in large multifamily buildings increases as the head of household ages, likely a result of wanting more accessibility features common in those buildings.

According to the report, many of the most vulnerable older adults live alone. The share of single-person households age 80 and over is reaching 57 percent, while 77 percent of renters in the same age bracket live alone. JCHS observes that older adults who live alone and are in need of support are challenged because they must rely on non-resident or paid caregivers, yet they have lower incomes than larger households.

Finally, the report describes how a growing number of older adults live in low-density areas, up from 24 to 32 percent in the last decade. The report warns that providing services and transportation alternatives is more difficult in locations with more dispersed housing.

JCHS concludes the report by calling on state and local governments, as well as the private and nonprofit sectors, to play a role in developing more affordable and accessible housing for older households. Given the current and growing scale of need, however, JCHS indicates the federal government must also play a role.

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