The lack of affordable, accessible, and well-located homes is failing to meet the needs of an aging population and could be the nation's next housing crisis, a new report suggests.
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A new study by the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies and AARP Foundation points to three main issues, reports Forbes: The cost of renting and home ownership is too high; many homes and apartments lack basic accessibility features; and older Americans say they want to "age in place" in their current home but are living in car-dependent suburbs and rural towns that can make it more difficult.
"If things don't change, low-income older people will be compromising their well-being in many respects," says Chris Herbert, acting managing director of the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies. "It's an issue that will affect us all."
In 15 years, one in five Americans will be 65 or older, according to the report.
"You've got a scenario with the largest generation we've ever had moving into their senior years combined with the fact that longevity is increasing," says Jonathan Smoke, chief economist at realtor.com. "And we're fairly ill-prepared to address the housing needs and challenges of them."
Incomes for seniors are not rising, but home prices are, says Smoke. Millions of low-income older adults are sacrificing spending on other necessities — such as health care and food — to pay for higher housing costs, according to the Harvard study.
Also, the study shows that the majority of people in their 50s and 60s live in rural areas or car-dependent suburbs with no access to public transportation. This will make it challenging for seniors to stay in their current residences if they become unable to drive.
"It's a conundrum. Seniors today — and most likely tomorrow — are living in places that are not ideal to enjoy fulfilling lives as we age," says Smoke.
Also, only 1 percent of U.S. housing units have all five of the "universal design" features: no-step entry; single-floor living; extra-wide doorways and halls; and accessible electrical controls, switches, and lever-style door and faucet handles, according to the report.
The main reason so many homes lack such accessibility? It can be expensive to install them. For example, adding a ramp can cost $2,400, and a stairlift can cost up to $12,000.
According to the study, change is slowly occurring to address such issues. States such as Ohio have offered tax credits of up to $5,000 to help home owners make their residences more accessible, and Massachusetts is providing loans of up to $30,000 so home owners can add accessibility features. Also, some states, such as Colorado, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, Oregon, Texas, and Utah, are offering developers more incentives to build affordable housing near mass transit.
"Addressing the needs of seniors will improve communities for everyone," says Smoke. "I don't think you want to be a community that screams: 'If you're over 65, you'll want to leave here.'"