There’s no stopping it: the population is aging. In less than 20 years, in fact, one in three households will be headed by someone aged 65 or older, according to a recent report by the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies—a finding that emphasizes the already-dire need for accessible, affordable housing.
Even more stirring, according to the report, Projections and Implications for Housing a Growing Population: Older Adults 2015-2035: though the 65-and-older population will expand from 48 million to 79 million by 2035, with 50 million acting as heads of households, just 3.5 percent of existing houses feature supportive amenities such as widened entrances and pathways. Moreover, much of the 65-and-older population will have the means to finance an aging-in-place lifestyle, aggravating demand.
Addressing the incoming—and overwhelming—call for outfitted housing is essential, says Chris Herbert, managing director of the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies.
“The housing implications of this surge in the older adult population are many, and call for innovative approaches to respond to growing need for housing that is affordable, accessible and linked to supportive services that will grow exponentially over the next two decades,” says Herbert.
Affordability will be most concerning to older low-income renters, according to the report, which projects that by 2035, 6.4 million older low-income renters will have to pay over 30 percent of their income for housing. Upwards of 7 million, however, will have access to federal rental subsidies, alleviating the strain—though to an extent.
“Today…we only serve one-third of those who qualify for assistance,” says Jennifer Molinsky, lead author of the report and senior research associate at the Joint Center. “Just continuing at this rate—which would be a stretch—would leave 4.9 million people to find affordable housing in the private market.”
With lacking housing supply a crisis-level issue across generations, addressing the specific needs of the older population will necessitate cooperation between several constituents, the report concludes.
“Right now, more than 19 million older adults live in unaffordable or inadequate housing, and that problem will only grow worse in the next two decades as our population ages,” says Lisa Marsh Ryerson, president of AARP Foundation, which provided funding for the report. “This important follow-up study to Harvard’s ground-breaking 2014 report on housing America’s older adults not only calls attention to important trends but also helps point to the kind of solutions—requiring cross-sector collaboration between the housing industry, policymakers, and public, private and philanthropic organizations—that will fulfill older adults’ ardent desire to continue living independently at home with security and dignity.”
Sixty-one percent of those surveyed in a recent HomeAdvisor report say they plan to stay in their home “indefinitely” as they age.
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