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Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies Releases Report on Housing America’s Older Adults

Published on September 5, 2014 by NCSHA Staff
Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies Releases Report on Housing America’s Older Adults

This week, the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University (JCHS) released a report entitled Housing America’s Older Adults: Meeting the Needs of an Aging Population. The report cites housing cost burden, a lack of basic accessibility features in the current housing stock, isolation due to lack of transportation infrastructure, and disconnects between housing and health care as areas of concern. It concludes that the U.S. is not prepared to meet the housing needs of an aging population, but states, “There is still time for the nation to prepare for the evolving needs of older adults by expanding the supply of housing that is affordable, safe, and accessible; providing opportunities for older adults to connect socially yet live independently; and integrating housing and long-term care services to support those aging in private homes.”

The report examines a number of trends for older adults, defined in the report as those aged 50 years and older, including housing preferences, disability rates, and income. It cites a recent AARP survey that found a strong preference for aging in place, with 73 percent of those surveyed strongly agreeing that they want to reside in their current residences as long as possible and 67 percent wanting to remain in their communities as long as possible. The report found that whereas, of those aged 50 to 54, 7 percent with incomes of at least $60,000 annually had some type of disability compared to 33 percent for those earning less than $30,000 annually, more than two-thirds of those aged 85 have a disability, regardless of income level.

According to the report, one-third of older adults pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing. Additionally, if the current income distribution of the 65 and over population remains constant, the number of households with annual incomes less than $15,000 among this population will increase by 1.8 million, to 6.5 million households, in 2024, a 37 percent increase. The report finds that a key determinant of housing cost burden is whether a household owns or rents, with renters more likely to be housing cost burdened. However, many owners still paying their mortgages also experience at least moderate housing cost burdens. As of 2010, more than 70 percent of homeowners in the age range 50 to 64 were paying on a mortgage.

The report states, “For many older renters, securing federally subsidized housing is the key to financial stability.” It found that in 2011, just over one-third of very low-income renters, with incomes at or below 50 percent of area median income (AMI), who were 62 years and older and eligible for rental assistance received it. It predicts that if housing assistance does not increase, by 2030 there will be 4 million very low-income older adult renters trying to find affordable housing in the private market. In addition to the need for additional affordable rental housing, the report highlights the need to preserve the current supply. The report says that to help preserve and expand the stock “many states use some degree of targeting to older adults in the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (Housing Credit) program.” It says the Housing Credit has provided approximately 320,800 units for older renters, of which 65 percent were newly constructed.

The report states that meeting the needs of older adults will require a range of responses, including at the individual, community, and federal levels. At the federal level, the report says a number of federal efforts need to be expanded, specifically highlighting rental assistance and funding for housing with supportive services. The report adds, “Changes to Medicare and Medicaid would enable better coordination of affordable, accessible housing with long-term care.” The report says state and local governments can promote accessibility and expand housing and transportation options.

The report, supporting materials, and video from an event for the report’s release are available on JCHS’ website.