Housing already comprises the largest monthly expense for most people, but for people age 55 and older who are considering senior care options for themselves, that cost is likely to increase significantly.
The AARP and Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies has released a survey that finds that one in three Americans age 50 or older faced either a severe or moderate housing burden back in 2012. In 2000, the number was at one in four.
Overall, the report found that the United States is “unprepared to meet the escalating need for affordability, accessibility, social connectivity and supportive services.” However, Vivian Vasallo, vice president of housing for the AARP Foundation, stated that there is still time to be “proactive” in managing any future crisis that may arise.
The study comes at a time when as many as 10,000 baby boomers are retiring each day. By 2030, approximately 73 million Americans will be age 65 or older, up 33 million in just 20 years.
But because of increased lifespans for many, two groups will be especially vulnerable to the high costs of housing: renters and women.
Those who have lower incomes and do not own their own homes may struggle with housing costs in the coming years. The problem could extend to women who end up living alone into their 70s and 80s, whether they’ve outlived a spouse or are single.
The rising housing costs also present a problem for adults who want to “age in place,” or stay in their homes. By age 85, over 67% of these adults have a disability that makes this goal impractical and too costly, which forces them to seek out senior care.
There are options for seniors who want to stay at home, but they often wind up being more expensive. Home modifications for those with disabilities or chronic conditions might include grab bars or lever-style handles for doors and faucets.
The option of moving into a single-floor home or a senior living community that provides healthcare can sometimes be out of reach for seniors who need easy and affordable living arrangements.
“What we need in this country are affordable rental model communities, because those communities are built to serve the elderly,” says Jon Scott Williams, Lead Member of the Senior Transition Guide. “It’s the middle class that needs the most help right now in terms of housing and the solution to that is senior housing that caters specifically to the middle class. We need affordable senior housing without sacrificing beneficial health care opportunities in assisted living situations.”
Vasallo said that the report signals a “call to action” for individuals and the United States. By ignoring it, “we’re looking at more older people living a more vulnerable state,” she said, pointing out that more expensive housing could mean taking food and healthcare away from these vulnerable populations.
Giving rental assistance to seniors who need it, especially to the one-third of renters who spend half of their income on housing, could be one possible solution, according to the report. Other solutions include expanded use of technology and services to modify seniors’ homes and developing communities that support independence while combating isolation.