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Growing ranks of seniors face affordable housing crunch

April 12, 2012
by Patricia Sheehan
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The growing ranks of older adults are predicted to worsen the nation’s housing affordability challenges, according to a new report from the Center for Housing Policy.

With the over-65 population expected to grow by more than 120 percent by 2050, the report explores the effects of this coming demographic change on the demand for housing, the challenge of providing meaningful housing choices for older adults of all incomes, and the policies that could help communities across the country respond to the dual challenges of providing older adults with affordable housing and adequate services.

The report finds that older adults are more likely than younger adults to have housing affordability challenges. As a result, the aging of the population is likely to increase the overall proportion of the country with severe housing cost burdens. The report also finds that many older adults lack access to affordable services that could help them age in place.

Similarly, older adults with low- and moderate incomes often lack access to meaningful housing choices—for example, to move into a multifamily development that would provide services an 85-year-old might need to continue living independently and avoid nursing care. The report further covers trends affecting older adults in terms of demand, housing costs, finances, location and housing type, offering recommendations on existing policies that may help to address the coming crisis.

“Given the sharp increase in the population of older adults cited in the report, it's essential that we focus now on strengthening the nation's policy response,” said Sydelle M. Knepper, CEO of development firm SKA Marin, in a press release. “HUD’s Section 202 supportive housing for the elderly program has done a lot to fund housing for older adults and people with a disability, providing more than 400,000 homes over the last 50 years, but we need to act at a much larger scale to have a hope of meeting future need.”

Among the solutions described in the report are policies to expand senior housing opportunities. By adopting more flexible zoning policies, communities can help foster a diverse range of housing types including accessory dwelling units (i.e., granny flats), high-density rental developments, assisted living residences, continuing care retirement communities and congregate housing. Subsidies will be needed to help ensure that older adults with low and moderate incomes have access to affordable choices, suggests the report. The report also recommends experimenting with more cohousing efforts that promote “active neighboring” and/or allow professional caregivers to live among residents

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