Nearly three-quarters of senior Americans want to live in their own homes as they age – but less than one percent of American housing stock is properly equipped to accommodate them. That’s just one finding that grabbed our attention from a comprehensive study by Harvard University called “Housing America’s Older Adults.” It’s a long report – more than 40 pages – and it was issued a few years ago. But the message couldn’t be clearer: we as a nation are simply not ready to meet the housing needs of seniors in America.
(The study was prepared by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, and if you want to read the report for yourself you can click on this link.)
According to the Harvard report, America’s senior population is booming. By 2030 one American in five will be 65 years old or older, and by 2040 there will be 28 million Americans over the age of 80, more than triple the number in the year 2000. “Ensuring that these older adults have the housing they need to enjoy high-quality, independent, and financially secure lives has thus taken on new urgency,” says the Harvard report, “not only for individuals and their families, but also for the nation.” However, says the report, there’s a housing crisis brewing. “The existing housing stock is unprepared to meet the escalating need for affordability, accessibility, social connectivity, and supportive services,” the report warns. It calls the public policy challenges involved in properly housing America’s seniors “immense.”
It is “vital to our standard of living,” says the report, that communities, families and institutions recognize the implications of this “profound demographic shift” toward an older population. The rest of the report goes into great detail to explain the root of the senior housing crisis and what might be done to prepare for the tsunami that’s already brewing as baby boomers age.
Here at AgingOptions this confirms what we tell our clients, radio listeners and seminar guests repeatedly and emphatically. Unless you plan ahead to consider your housing options and to prepare yourself and your home and family well, you are going to join the large and growing number of seniors who end up being forced into institutional care against their will because they can no longer stay at home. But that doesn’t have to happen! In just a moment we’ll explain how you can beat that trend and enjoy the kind of retirement living you prefer.
The Harvard study points out that, because housing is the single biggest item in most household budgets, housing-related expenses disproportionately affect a senior’s financial security and their ability to save for the future. Seniors need housing that is accessible to the services they require, especially when they can no longer drive, and seniors with disabilities or other physical frailties need housing with an environment that will keep them safe and healthy. But, says the report, several major factors are working against seniors today as they seek solutions to their housing needs.
- High housing costs are forcing millions of low-income older seniors to “sacrifice spending on other necessities including food, undermining their health and well-being.”
- Much of the nation’s housing inventory lacks basic accessibility features – single floor living, a stairless entry, switches and handles that are accessible and easy for seniors to operate, and extra wide doorways and halls – that make it possible to age in place. As we pointed out above, housing surveys have shown that a tiny fraction of American homes have all these features, while about 20 percent of homes have none or one.
- We are still a “car culture” in the U.S. with a transportation system that in many places is ill-suited to meet the needs of those who cannot or choose not to drive – leaving carless seniors increasingly isolated from friends and family.
- Poor communication and coordination between American housing programs and the health care system “puts many older adults with disabilities or long-term care needs at risk of premature institutionalization” – just as we’ve warned about time and time again.
As we said, this is a voluminous and highly revealing report, with a great deal of data. But there are several things that you as a senior – or as someone determined to plan ahead for your retirement years – can and must do. In fact, this conclusion echoes the advice we give to our AgingOptions clients and seminar guests. “At the individual level,” the Harvard study urges, “older adults and their families must plan for the time when they have to confront the vulnerabilities of aging.” This type of planning is comprehensive and multi-faceted: “Financial preparations, including building savings, managing debt, and obtaining long-term care insurance, are all important steps toward continued self-sufficiency. Thoughtful choices about where to live, the type of housing to occupy, or the type of home modifications to make—in advance of disabilities or chronic conditions—make it more possible to age in place without compromising safety or social connections.”
Because many seniors can’t afford these steps, the Harvard study concludes, larger institutions need to step in. “It is critical that the public and private sectors take steps to ensure that housing and health care systems support appropriate and cost-effective options for low-income older adults, and that communities provide housing, transportation, and service options for their older populations regardless of income,” the study asserts. But as utopian as that might sound, we have to say that in this day and age of political division and skepticism we’re a bit dubious that this “public-private” partnership will ever be able to mobilize sufficiently to solve the looming housing crisis among seniors.
Still, when it comes to the needs of the average retiree, what the Harvard study appears to be advocating is what we at AgingOptions prefer to call LifePlanning. We take the approach reflected in the Harvard article, that every facet of retirement works in close harmony with every other facet. You can’t make a financial plan for retirement without considering housing. You can’t plan for your housing needs without making certain your medical insurance is adequate. You can’t avoid becoming a burden to those you love unless you involve them in these decisions. And you need a legal strategy that binds them all together and protects the interests of you and your family. LifePlanning is a truly thorough and comprehensive approach to the challenges of building a retirement plan that truly stands the test of time.
Why not accept our invitation to learn more? Come to a free LifePlanning Seminar at a location near you, where you’ll see why so many are so enthusiastic about this breakthrough in retirement planning. Clkick here for dates, times, locations and online registration, or call us during the week. Don’t let a failure to plan doom your retirement hopes to disappointment! Come discover the power of an AgingOptions LifePlan.