American homes are unprepared for an aging America

Baby boomers don’t want to go to a senior care facility – 8 out of 10 in fact say they prefer to age in place. The problem? Most homes are not designed for seniors.

While about 94% of the 115 million homes in the United States had at least one feature accessible to seniors, a 2020 Census Bureau report shows that only 10% were willing to accommodate older residents. In other words, they had a stepless entrance, a bedroom and bathroom on the first floor, and one or more bathroom accessibility features.

By the end of this decade, the entire baby boomer generation will be 65 or older. A good portion are already reporting aging-in-place issues in their current homes. Twenty-eight percent of seniors struggle to use part of their home without help, according to the Census Bureau report watch, citing data from the 2011 U.S. Housing Survey. This may mean climbing stairs, turning on stiff faucets, getting in or out of their shower, or reaching for kitchen cabinets.

It is therefore not very surprising that approximately 1 in 3 adults say they will need to make major repairs or modifications as they or other family members age, according to the 2021 Household and Community Preferences Survey from AARP.

What is highest on the priority list? Of those expecting to make changes to their home, 79% plan to make changes to their bathroom. This is followed by 7 out of 10 people who plan to make home access modifications to the entrance and/or inside the house, and 6 out of 10 people who will install a medical intervention system. emergency.

Not an affordable option for everyone

But many seniors may struggle to afford these types of accessibility changes. Home improvement and home care services quickly become expensive and aren’t always covered by medical insurers or government programs, according to the authors of a recent report on housing from the Hastings Center and the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University.

The median cost of hiring a home health aide, for example, is over $5,000 a month, according to estimates of Genworth, an insurance company. Installing safety devices, like grab bars or sink handles (instead of knobs) in a bathroom can cost hundreds of dollars. And a medical response system, which is usually based on a monthly subscription, can cost up to $90 per month.

In 2019, more than 10 million households headed by someone aged 65 or over were cost-burdened (in other words, they spent more than a third of their income on housing). About half of these households spent more than 50% of their income on housing. People of color, renters, low-income people and older age groups have been disproportionately affected.

For many older people, social security benefits are the main source of income. Between 2006 and 2016, these payments increased only 6% over the median rent, which increased more than twice that rate, the authors of the Hastings Center report wrote.

About 29% of the 7.8 million households with the worst housing needs in 2019 were headed by people aged 62 and over, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2021 report. report in Congress.

The pandemic has only made many of these affordability issues worse for older households, especially during the economic downturn, the Hastings Center said in its report. Many older people, and especially people of color, have lost income, whether due to the reduction of their own salary or that of a family member.

“When housing costs consume a large portion of household budgets, older people often sacrifice on other necessities,” the Hastings report authors wrote. This means spending less on food and healthcare than otherwise similar households do.

“The key to ending the worst housing needs is to increase the supply of affordable housing,” the Department of Housing and Urban Development wrote in its report.

Where you age in your home can make a big difference

For baby boomers who want to age in place, it helps to live in places where homes are more likely to have features that are better suited to older Americans. In Mid-Atlantic, for example, only 6% of homes have accessibility features that are a natural part of the region’s home style, according to census data. That compares to 14% of homes in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas that were primed to age.

One problem is the number of floors in a house. Multi-story homes are more common in New England and Mid-Atlantic, where they account for about 90% of housing in those areas. For what? Less land, for one. So, instead of going out, houses were built. To the west and south, where land is more readily available, one-story houses are more typical (and also cheaper to cool in warmer climates).

Another factor in these regional differences is the age of the housing stock. Homes are older in the Northeast, with the median year of construction being 1958 for Mid-Atlantic and 1963 for New England. In comparison, the median construction year for homes farther west is in the 1980s. (States with higher population growth rates tend to have newer homes.)

It is possible, according to the census report, that renovations in the Northeast will be limited in scope simply because the alterations would be larger and more expensive because the houses are older. Not to mention that bedrooms and full bathrooms are often found on the second floor of a multi-story home.

The good news: The older you are, the more likely you are to have equity – for some

Compared to their younger counterparts, older adults are more likely to own and have paid off their mortgage.

About 79% of adults ages 50 and older say they own their homes, with half saying they have fully paid off their mortgage, according to AARP survey data. By comparison, half of adults aged 18 to 49 identify as homeowners, and less than a quarter have paid off their mortgage.

Older adults are also less likely to rent. About 19% of adults aged 50 and over rent their home, compared to 39% of young adults.

For many seniors, home equity can be a significant portion of total net worth. Even when median incomes are similar, older homeowners are wealthier than older renters, according to the Hastings Center. analysis data from the 2016 Federal Reserve Survey of Consumer Finances.

The median elderly homeowner, for example, had a net worth of $319,200 and a net worth of $143,500 in 2016. The renter, however, had a net worth of around $6,700.

Of course, not everyone has had equal access to their home equity, which has lasting implications for today’s aging population.

“A long history of racial discrimination in the real estate market and housing finance – often codified by government policies – has restricted housing options and housing quality for black Americans, while white Americans have had more opportunities to buy homes in communities where housing has increased in value,” the authors of the Hastings Center 2020 report wrote.

“Policies that limited access to mortgages and investments in neighborhoods of color also limited the ability of Black Americans to use home buying as an investment tool, hindering intergenerational wealth transfer and driving very different financial resources at the end of life depending on the race,” they added.

Baby boomers will move out but prefer a private home to a seniors’ facility

Although the majority want to age in place, a good portion of baby boomers move into smaller homes or apartments later in life.

At 42%, baby boomers make up the largest share of home sellers over the past year, 2022 study finds report of the National Association of Realtors.

Where are they going? When selling their home, baby boomers were more likely to downsize and travel the furthest distances, compared to other generations, to be closer to friends and family, data shows. . Members of the silent generation, aged 78 to 93, were the most likely to move to be closer to family and buy the smallest homes.

AARP data suggests that many baby boomers are taking this approach in hopes of avoiding nursing homes or other long-term care facilities. About half of adults say they would consider leaving their home if it meant finding one that would help them age independently, AARP found.

And then there is the market

But when looking to sell a home, the market doesn’t always cooperate.

Selling their homes at the peak of a housing boom can be great for baby boomers looking to cash out, Forbes reported last November. But trying to sell at the low of a bust can mean bad news.

“If this life emergency occurs deep in the chest, it only makes things worse for them during one of the most difficult times in their lives,” the outlet reported. “These last-home sellers have less discretion over when to sell than first-time home buyers have over when to buy.”

Thanks to Lillian Barkley for writing this article.

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