More Seniors Are Unprepared for Rising Cost of Housing
A new study by AARP and Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies finds that one in three Americans older than 50 faced a severe or moderate housing burden in 2012. That's up from one in four in 2000. The report warns that the nation is "unprepared to meet the escalating need for affordability, accessibility, social connectivity and supportive services."
The good news? "It's not very often that we have a window into a future crisis so early on," according to Vivian Vasallo, vice president of housing for the AARP Foundation. "We have an opportunity to be proactive in how we manage this."
Renters and Women at Risk
About 10,000 boomers are retiring every day, and the number of Americans older than 65 is projected to soar to 73 million by 2030 -- an increase of 33 million in just two decades. People are living longer, increasing the cost of housing even more -- especially for low-income people who do not own their own homes. The Harvard/AARP report says this trend will lead to "significant shifts in housing demand." Vasallo notes that as people age, they become more vulnerable to reductions in income, with housing costs especially challenging for minority groups. She says "many are already facing a significant cost burden, and it's only going to grow." Women are especially at risk, likely to end up living alone in their 70s or 80s.
Studies show that almost 90 percent of older adults want to age in place -- that is, stay in the home and the community they now live in. But by age 85, more than two-thirds of individuals have some type of disability that makes aging in place less practical or more costly.
The report says older adults and their families need to plan for the vulnerabilities of aging and make the tough choices "about where to live, the type of housing to occupy or the type of home modifications to make -- in advance of disabilities or chronic conditions." Solutions include grab bars, which help prevent falls, and lever-style handles for doors and faucets. Other options -- such as living on one floor or living in a community that offers public transportation and adequate health care nearby -- are potentially more difficult and more expensive. And many people simply lack the resources to make these changes.
Time for Society, People to Act
Vasallo says this is a wakeup call for the country and for individuals. "If we ignore this call to action, we're looking at more older people living a more vulnerable state," she said, referring to money for housing taken from other necessities, including food and health care.
Renters have it tougher: Nearly one-third of renters already pay more than half of their income on housing. Homeowners -– even those who still carry mortgages -– typically are wealthier in terms of both home equity and non-housing assets and pay less for housing. The report says the typical homeowner aged 65 and over has enough wealth to cover nursing home costs for 42 months. In contrast, the median older renter cannot afford even one month in a nursing home.
The report suggests actions to ease the problems, including rental assistance, expanded use of technology and services to help older adults modify their homes, more services delivered at home and communities that promote independence but prevent isolation.