Housing Is Aging — Ungracefully - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Housing Is Aging — Ungracefully

Housing Is Aging — Ungracefully

By Anne Miller



Because a housing crisis is coming for the oldest Americans.

By Anne Miller

My parents live in their forever home. My father likes to say that he’ll move out of his house in a pine box.

Sadly, though, my dad’s plan may be harder for many other seniors to pull off. A study from the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University found that affordable housing remains a huge challenge for seniors — and it’s going to get worse as the baby boomers age.

And if you, Mr. 20-something, think this a moot point for you, you’re wrong. Your taxes, your city, your commute and very likely your own parents are in these crosshairs, too. Listen up.

Let’s start with the boomers. Thanks to them, 18 percent of the U.S. population will have hit 65 or older by 2030, according to the Pew Research Center. The wave has already begun, with the oldest boomers hitting that milestone in 2011.

Already more seniors are living longer in their single-family houses, the Harvard researchers found, but the cost of housing remains one of the biggest obstacles to quality end-of-life care, with millions of seniors paying more than 30 percent (the rate considered financially sustainable) of their income for housing — and cutting back on food and medical care to do so. Many seniors who still rent or haven’t paid off mortgages are implicated. 


  • 13.4 million people over age 75 will live alone by 2035.
  • One in four has a serious medical impairment.
  • 70 percent of people over age 65 will need long-term care as they age.
  • The median income for seniors in their 80s remains less than $30,000 — no matter how well-off they started.

In sum, a lot of aging people want to stay in their homes, but will live alone, with little income and big needs.

The study finds that one of the biggest needs as boomers age will be for subsidized housing, giving those who can’t work anymore a reliable roof — but we as a nation aren’t set up for that.

“We’re a country where we’ll have a lot of older adults facing hunger, having inadequate housing, being isolated,” says Vivian Vasallo, the vice president for housing with the AARP Foundation, which commissioned the study.

The next 10 years are crucial for planning how we as a nation age, she says — before the boomers hit and our social services and safety nets shudder. 

What are your plans?

This OZY encore was originally published Oct. 22, 2014.

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