Harvard: The housing crisis for Baby Boomers is on the way

The Housing Wire - Jacob Gaffney - 13 December 2016

A new study conducted by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard Universityreveals that many Americans will face greater troubles before being able to retire due to decades of damage to personal wealth from the Great Recession.

As a result, the lack of affordable and safe housing for America’s aging population is headed to a crisis point.

“Right now, more than 19 million older adults live in unaffordable or inadequate housing, and that problem will only grow worse in the next two decades as our population ages,” says Lisa Marsh Ryerson, president of AARP Foundation, which provided funding for the report.  

According to the report, as the Baby Boom generation ages, the U.S. population aged 65 and over is expected to grow from 48 million to 79 million.

"This growth will increase the demand for housing units with universal design elements such as zero-step entrances, single-floor living, and wide halls and doorways," the center said in a release. "However, only 3.5% of homes offer all three of these features."

So, the simple solution is to renovate housing to accomodate these special features, right? Well, the answer to that is another question: Who's going to pay for that? Not the elderly and here's why. 

The Great Recession only officially lasted for less than two years, from 2007 to 2009, but dealt a sharp downward blow to household worth, via unemployment, loss of savings and declines in home equity, the study finds.

The study finds 45% of older owners with mortgages face growing cost burdens.

This is partially due to the fact that income levels decline with age. Yes, the study admits, as people age they tend to need less and spend less to get it. But although the cost of living also decreases, the Harvard study quotes research showing that the rate of income declines outpaces spending declines, leaving a vulnerability gap.

From Section 4 on financial burdens facing aging Americans:

The Consumer Expenditure Survey reported the average pre-tax income for households headed by a person aged 65-74 to be $54,100, and average total annual expenditures to be $49,500.3 For the 75 and older group, average income fell to $36,400, while total annual expenditures averaged $38,100—lower than for the 65-74 age group but not by enough to offset parallel income declines, demonstrating how older households must often look to non-income financial reserves to finance daily expenses.

In order to compensate on the income shortfalls, many seniors will cut back on transportation, medicine and even food costs.

“The housing implications of this surge in the older adult population are many,” says Chris Herbert, managing director of the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, “and call for innovative approaches to respond to growing need for housing that is affordable, accessible and linked to supportive services that will grow exponentially over the next two decades.” 

The Harvard study echoes concerns voiced by former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros in an exclusive interview with HousingWire.