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Report finds senior housing next big obstacle to healthy aging

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A recent report by the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies and the AARP Foundation projects that Senior Housing is the next big American crisis.  According to the report, “The public policy challenges are immense.  Recognizing the implications of this profound demographic shift and taking immediate steps to address the deficiencies in the housing stock, community preparedness, and the health care system are vital to our national standard of living.”  Henry Cisneros, executive chairman at CityView and a former Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development warned that many aging Americans don’t have the retirement savings they are likely to need and government budgets are too strapped to fill in the shortage.

Nearly 70 percent of people who reach the age of 65 will eventually need some form of long-term care according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.   Because of the Great Recession, Baby Boomers in their 50s are less financially secure than previous generations.  As the number of low-income older adults climbs, their numbers are likely to find the housing cost burden more challenging.

Two out of three Americans receiving long-term care receive that care from unpaid family caregivers but the number of possible family caregivers is shrinking fast.  One study found that approximately seven people serve as available resources for older family members today but in the next two decades that number is likely to drop to three family members.  That’s because more than 20 percent of Baby Boomers never had children, a number twice as high as the previous generation.

One result is that a growing number of Americans will require paid care but will lack the resources to pay for it.  Housing represents the single largest expense in most household budgets.  Ensuring the ability of older adults to remain in their current homes and do so comfortably and affordably presents challenges according to the report.  One projection is that the typical homeowner 65 and over can pay the cost of approximately 42 months in a nursing home and has enough non-housing wealth to last 15 months.  In contrast, most of those individuals that don’t own their own housing cannot afford even one month of care without some form of assistance.  Less than 20 percent of renters can afford more than a year.

Aggravating that situation is that there is a severe shortage of senior housing options so even if the coming age wave could afford nursing home care or something similar, the structure isn’t there to support it.  Those hoping to age in their homes are likely to find that those costs add up as well.  For most Americans to remain at home, they’ll need to retrofit their homes with at least five features: no-step entries and single-floor living, switches and outlets reachable at any height, extra-wide hallways and doors to accommodate wheelchairs and walkers, and lever style door and faucet handles.  Most American homes have at one of those features, but only 57 percent have two or more.

For individuals hoping to age in place, they must plan for a time when they will likely need more care.  Those plans must include financial preparations such as saving more, managing debt and paying for long-term care insurance but they will also include careful thinking about future needs when it comes to housing decisions both where you choose to live in terms of housing choices but also where you choose to live when it comes to the location of that choice.  Those individuals already living in homes they intend to age in must prepare for a time when future disability may make current living choices obstacles to independence.  Choosing communities and municipalities that support your aging choices and looking for services prior to needing them will help you achieve a higher quality of life.

For information on other choices you’ll need to make as you age, come to a free LifePlanning seminar.

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