America is going through a major demographic change. By 2030, more than one in five people in the United States will be 65 or older. By 2035, older adults are expected to outnumber children for the first time ever. One of the major issues for this abundant aging population is affordable housing. Many older adults experience serious housing problems because of high housing costs and inaccessible home design features. Housing is the single largest expense in elderly households. Almost one third of U.S. households spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing.
A greater demand
Affordable housing is a cornerstone of livable communities. Along with amenities like access to health care, transportation options, public parks and gathering places, affordable housing makes a community welcoming to people of all ages, income levels and abilities. At AARP, we include affordable housing as one of the criteria in our Livability Index, which scores neighborhoods and communities across the United States. In order to receive top marks for livability, a community must meet the needs of all residents, including those senior citizens.
A wider range of housing options is required – not just single family homes and large apartment complexes. AARP’s vision of a Livable Community incorporates a range of options including creative and innovative housing solutions. These may be tiny homes and micro apartments, options for shared housing, multigenerational housing or modifications that can make a home safe for residents of all ages.
The long road ahead
There isn’t a quick fix to create and maintain affordable housing for older Americans. Rather, we need solutions at all levels of government and community. Tax credits and government housing subsidies are one piece of the puzzle and especially important for older renters with incomes below 50 percent of the area median income. Many state and local governments are also stepping up with trust funds to create affordable housing. Within the private sector, both Microsoft and the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative recently announced that they will invest millions in preserving and building affordable housing.
Even individual homeowners can play a role in increasing affordable housing by building an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) on their property. ADUs are smaller structures, like carriage houses or basement apartments. An ADU can provide housing for an older family member, rental income, or even be a smaller, more manageable home for the original homeowner. Many communities are now revising their building codes to allow for ADUs and increase available housing.
Providing housing that will meet the needs of our changing population will require support from every level of government. We will need to be creative and rethink the types of housing that each community offers. The good news is that communities that embrace these changes will become more vibrant and welcoming to everyone – not just older adults. We at AARP are encouraged to see innovations in housing emerging across the country, and we are eager to work with communities to ensure that affordable housing is available for those who need it.
Rodney Harrell, Ph.D., Director of Livability Thought Leadership, AARP, [email protected]