Why is there a Housing Shortage for Senior Americans and What Can You do to Help?

Apr 11, 2023

Investing in the housing needs of older adults is crucial at this moment. With the number of people aged 65 and over rapidly increasing, it is estimated that by 2035, the population aged 80 and over will reach nearly 24 million people, double the number in 2016. Many of these older adults will live alone on limited incomes and face mobility and other health challenges. 

The demand for affordable, accessible housing, in-home services, and neighborhood support is set to soar, yet currently, we are falling well short of meeting even today's needs. Without concerted action, this situation may lead to grave deficiencies that could diminish older people's health, increase the cost of public programs, and exacerbate deep and longstanding inequalities. 

There are four specific challenges that need addressing: 

First, there is an enormous unmet need for affordable rental housing for older adults. Over 10 million households headed by someone 65 and over are cost-burdened, with half of them paying more than 50% of their income on housing. Nearly three-quarters of renters earning under $15,000 per year are cost-burdened. To compensate, these households often cut back on food and medical care, which can be detrimental to those with chronic health conditions. This situation is particularly risky for renters on fixed incomes, who have a much smaller personal safety net. 

Second, very little of the nation's housing stock offers even the most basic accessibility features. Less than 4% of homes offer a no-step entry, single-floor living, and wide enough doors and hallways to accommodate a wheelchair. Older people are also most likely to report difficulties entering, navigating, and using different parts of their homes. Support is needed for renters, property owners, and older homeowners to make modifications and maintain housing in a safe condition. 

Third, the need for assistance and services that support older adults with activities of daily living and household tasks is escalating. Service-enriched affordable housing has been shown to support independence and reduce healthcare costs. Still, the need for support and services delivered to middle-income older adults who typically cannot afford assisted living settings is expected to grow. 

Fourth, many older adults live in places that lack livability features, such as neighborhood services, transportation alternatives, safe streets, and opportunities for engagement. These all contribute to wellbeing and can even combat isolation and loneliness, both serious health issues in their own right. 

To address these challenges, comprehensive and coordinated policies are necessary to build, preserve, and retrofit affordable housing, assist owners and landlords with accessibility modifications, and connect housing with services and transportation. Ensuring that the oldest people in our nation have housing that provides a sound foundation for a good quality of life is a necessity. However, the time to act is now, as the need is already great and will only increase. 

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