According to a recent Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies & AARP Foundation study, by 2030, the number of people aged 65 and older is estimated to reach 73 million, increasing by 33 million in two decades. Here in Minnesota, more than 1 in 5 residents in each of our 87 counties will be over 65 by this date. This “rapid aging” of America, including Minnesota, creates several challenges for housing, ranging from affordability to accessibility. What do we need to do in our state to ensure that the needs of seniors will be met?
The recent groundbreaking study conducted by the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies states, “Today, a third of adults aged 50 and over—including 37 percent of those aged 80 and over—pay more than 30 percent of income for housing.” Spending more on housing often means seniors are forced to spend less on necessities like food and health care.
In addition to housing costs, reduced or limited incomes are often responsible, with many low income senior households relying on Social Security for the majority of their income. Consumer debt is also a factor; the average non-housing debt for households aged 50-64 reached $17,100, up 51% since 1992.
Older renters and those still paying mortgages are at particular risk for housing cost burden. Increasing rents in recent years have also made matters worse.
It is important to note the data above are for today’s seniors. It is critical to explore effective ways to address these issues before the influx of older adults to ensure that seniors can afford housing. Currently, almost two-thirds of renters aged 62+ who are eligible for federally subsidized housing do not receive such subsidies. To simply maintain this ratio, America would need vast increases in subsidized housing options for seniors.
Many Baby Boomers currently express a desire to “age in place,” as opposed to moving into retirement communities. They may love their communities and wish to stay there as long as possible, or moving may be too expensive. However, only 1% of the US housing stock contains all five “universal design” features (no-step entry, single floor living, extra-wide doorways and hallways, accessible electrical controls and switches, and lever-style door and faucet handles) that make homes accessible to everyone. These installations and remodels of existing homes are expensive; ramps are easily over $2,000 and stair lifts can be as much as $12,000.
As individuals age, many are no longer able to drive. This can often mean that seniors have trouble connecting to their families and their communities, particularly in areas where cars are the main mode of transportation. Seniors need access to transportation to ensure access to services and care. The Department of Health and Human Services estimates roughly 70% of people 65 or older will need some form of long term care. However, family or in-home care may not be an option, since 40% of all households in their 70s, and 60% of all households in their 80s, are single-person households.
Situation in Minnesota
Here in Minnesota, resources for affordable senior housing remain limited. Housing cost burden is a concern with over 150,000 senior households, about one-third of households 65 or older in the state, paying 30% or more for housing. As Minnesota’s seniors age, more and more will have affordable housing needs. According to Wilder study projections nearly 70% of very low-income housing needs added to the East Metro through 2020 will come from senior headed households.
Funding to build additional senior housing is limited, especially for low-income seniors.
Mark Ulfers, Executive Director of the Dakota County Community Development Agency, explained the situation in Dakota County:
The need for affordable senior housing continues to rise, as more seniors enter the rental market and face long waiting lists. In Dakota County alone, we anticipate that there will be a need for approximately 650 additional affordable (shallow and deep subsidy) units of senior housing by 2030. The Dakota County CDA has built over 1,500 such units and we continue to build more each year, but we cannot meet the need with the available resources.
The Minnesota Housing Finance Agency plans to study the problem in Minnesota, but some advocates are concerned that delayed action will make meeting future needs even more difficult.
MHP encourages discussion about the needs of Minnesota seniors –current and future– for affordable housing.