Housing needs for those 65 and older

by Kacey Larsen

The Urban Institute hosted a webinar, “Housing America’s Seniors: Demand, Supply and Public Policy,” with featured speakers Gary V. Engelhardt, professor of economics at Syracuse University and Christopher Herbert, acting managing director and research director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. The purpose of the webinar was to examine the effects of predictions that over the next 30 years the number of American households headed by people age 65 and older will skyrocket in terms of housing needs, aging in place and more.

Herbert presented findings from his paper, Housing America’s Older Adults: Meeting the Needs of an Aging Population. A few of findings that he reported include:

  • Minorities will account for an increasing share of the population in coming years, but smaller shares of the oldest individuals. Hispanics are predicted to take the largest share, especially in the 50-64 age group, followed by Black then Asian/Other minorities. Also, Herbert noted that Hispanics and Asians are more likely to move in with relatives as they age, rather than continuing to rent or own.
  • He found that homeowners are often making decisions about where to live as they age while in their 50s and 60s without thought to what they will actually require to live at home while in their 80s. A few difficulties that may not be taken into account but become increasingly difficult for those 80 and over are cognitive, self-care, independent living and mobility issues.
  • Most older households do age in place, having lived in the same homes for decades. In the 50-64 age group, approximately 29 percent share of households have lived in their current home 10-19 years, closely followed by the 28 percent who have lived in the same home for 20 or more years. In the 65-79 age group, the share of households have overwhelmingly lived in their current home for 20 or more years (approximately 47 percent), and the same goes for those 80 and over with 60 percent living in their home for 20 or more years.
  • Herbert reported that homeownership rates among households 65 and older remain high, but dropped markedly among 50-64 year olds. Among 50-64 year olds, the homeownership rate was approximately 80.5 percent in 2005, but it dropped to approximately 75.5 percent by 2013. Perhaps some of this can be explained due to households carrying more mortgage debt into their retirement years compared to two decades ago. The share of owners with mortgage debt in the 50-64 age group in 2013 was approximately 70 percent, compared to the approximately 39 percent of those 65 and older.

Engelhardt, then, took over the presentation to present his paper, A Profile of Housing and Health Among Older Americans. A few of the highlights from his presentation include:

  • A resource for Engelhardt’s research was the Health and Retirement Study, which takes place every two years and surveys a wide expanse of participants ages 50 and over until they die. One thing his research has shown is how complementary health issues are with housing decisions. Renters over age 50 generally have poorer health than homeowners, and this is shown for a number of health statuses including: limits to Activities of Daily Life (ADLs), limits to mobility, Center for Epidemiological Studies (CESD) Depression Score, and chronic health conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and more.
  • Perhaps because of the higher likelihood of renters to have poor health, renters have better access to home safety and accessibility features like ramps, railings, grab bars or shower seats and safety call systems than homeowners. Engelhardt suggests this access is likely due to these features being preexisting for a renter, versus a homeowner needing to have them installed in their residence.
  • He points to there being a substantial unmet need for home safety modifications, especially considering there are approximately 10,000 accidental years per year due to falls in a home. The average medical cost for a serious fall is $12,200. While the cost of installing home safety and accessibility features may seem large, the savings from preventing a fall more than cover the expense of installation.  

More information on the speakers – Gary V. Engelhardt and Christopher Herbert – their presentation, and the Urban Institute can be found here

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