Let’s face it, we’re getting older. Not just as individuals, but the country as a whole. Because both men and women are living longer due to healthier lifestyles and advancements in medicine and technology, America’s population of older adults is experiencing unprecedented growth, and the need for affordable housing for older adults is nearing epic proportions.
A recent study by Make Room, a rental advocacy group, reported that the percentage of older adults who need affordable housing is rising faster than the increase in the senior U.S. population. Every day, over 10,000 baby boomers are reaching the age of 65. And think about this, by 2050, which is closer than it sounds, the 65+ population will increase 120 percent from 40 million to more than 88 million. That is one in every five Americans. Plus, the numbers of Americans aged 85 or older will more than triple over the same period.
The Need for Affordable Housing
Compounding the situation, the number of older adults weighed down by housing costs is rapidly escalating. In most households, the single largest expenditure is housing, and it has a direct impact on day-to-day financial security and affects the ability to save for the future. Older adults, many of whom are still grappling with the aftermath of the Great Recession, spend more than a third of their income on housing, and nearly half of the poorest older adults spend 50 percent to pay for it. This makes necessities such as food, clothing, health care, and discretionary spending for social activities, even buying gifts for their grandkids, difficult or impossible to realize. Furthermore, as income for older adults tends to decline or become fixed, hard costs like property taxes, maintenance, and utilities continue to rise.
As a far greater number of older adults wish to age in place, the opportunity to obtain safe, high-quality and affordable housing becomes increasingly difficult. Much of what is available isn’t designed to meet their changing needs. Accessibility challenges arise for those with physical issues. Structural features like no-step entry, extra-wide doorways and halls, accessible electrical controls and switches, and lever-style door handles that can enable an older adult to live safely and independently are severely lacking. Not addressing these needs can result in premature stays in nursing homes or the inability to return home after a hospitalization.
Innovation Breeds Solutions
To respond effectively to these challenges, we all must think outside the box, approach things from a fresh perspective and even consider partnerships. Several years ago, The Well•Spring Group took a hard look at our mission and recognized we have an opportunity – and an obligation as a not-for-profit organization – to broaden the delivery of our mission to as many people as we possible. Life plan communities aren’t feasible for everyone. But there are plenty of other options.
For example, here at Well•Spring, we have teamed with a local developer to apply for affordable housing tax credits in a joint effort to establish a new residential apartment complex geared toward older adults. Half of these 200 units would be affordable housing, while the other half would be set at market rate. Some of the services of our life plan community, such as housekeeping or a home meal delivery program, would be available on an a la carte basis.
By bringing these elements together in an accessible and affordable manner, more older people in our community can receive quality housing. We will learn in August if we will be awarded the affordable housing tax credits.
There’s no denying the fact that our country is not prepared to meet the housing needs of America’s rapidly aging population. Because of the growing urgency and overwhelming demand for affordable, purpose-built housing, we cannot wait. The stakes are too great. Yet through innovation and commitment, through bringing together those in our industry, our communities, and policymakers, we can have a profound impact on advancing livability for older adults.