Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Population Is Aging – Now Where Will They Live?

by Maya Brennan, Center for Housing Policy

Surveys consistently have found that more than 90 percent of older adults want to stay in their own home as they age. Now think about where you live. Is it set up to meet the needs of a 65-year-old? What about an 85-year-old? As the population ages, we need to stay a step ahead. What housing challenges do older adults face today, and what additional challenges will they face as their ranks swell? A new report by my colleagues at the Center for Housing Policy tackles these questions and proposes solutions.

Today around 40 million Americans are 65 or older. By 2050, older adults will exceed 88 million people – a 120 percent increase! And people aged 85 and up will more than triple over the same time period. Our nation’s housing is not set up to meet their needs.

Housing affordability and accessibility are already serious challenges for older adults – and will only become bigger problems if we leave them unaddressed. Incomes tend to decline with age, but housing costs keep going up – even more so if you add in the services needed to age in place. Are we doing enough to ensure that the next wave of retirees will have adequate assets to manage these increasing cost burdens?

Aging also brings mobility impairments that can affect older adults’ ability to live in their homes and get around their communities. About one in four older Americans will experience a disability that limits their capacity to enter and exit their home, use the bathroom, or otherwise continue living in the home without modifications. In addition, more than half of all 65+ households live in suburban or rural areas typically requiring a car to get around. What programs can help older adults access services without moving, and are we doing enough to make home retrofits an affordable option?

Looking forward to 2050, policymakers can reshape the housing landscape to better meet the needs of the next wave of the elderly. Modifying regional development patterns, increasing the flexibility of zoning policies, and building housing with aging residents in mind are steps we can start to take now in order to meet the needs of both today’s and tomorrow’s older adults.

It doesn’t take a crystal ball to predict our future housing needs. A rising number of older adults means a greater need for accessible homes and pedestrian- and transit-friendly communities. Meeting these needs, however, will not be easy unless we start working toward it today.

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