Harvard Says U.S. Senior Living Industry Unprepared for Coming Aging Wave

America is aging, and an AARP blog post┬áby Melissa Stanton explains that Harvard reports the country is totally unprepared for what that really means. A report, “Housing America’s Older Adults: Meeting the Needs of an Aging Population,” released September 2 by the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies with the support of the AARP Foundation, clearly shows that “both individually and as a nation we’re not ready for all that comes with age.”

The authors of the Harvard report explain that existing housing is “unprepared to meet the escalating need for affordability, accessibility, social connectivity, and supportive services.” Moreover, the country’s transportation and pedestrian infrastructure “is generally ill-suited to those who cannot or choose not to drive, isolating older adults from friends and family.” Plus, “disconnects between housing programs and the health care system put many older adults with disabilities or long-term care needs at risk of premature institutionalization.”

Aging will be expensive in the coming years

Stanton points out four eye-opening statistics and facts that show just how challenging it will be for seniors to afford aging:

  • Typical homeowners over age 65 can afford in-home assistance for about 6 to 9 years of assisted living
  • Typical renters over 65 only can afford two months of support
  • In 2012, 1/3 of adults 50+ paid more than 30% of their income for housing, including nearly 9.6 million who paid more than 50% of their income for housing
  • Low-income seniors significantly cut back on food, health care, and retirement savings because of high housing costs

Housing, necessities, transportation, and more create obstacles

Maicie Jones, program manager for AARP Foundation’s Housing Impact Team, breaks down the 5 essential facts from the Harvard study, highlighting the housing challenges that face older U.S. adults. Her key findings:

  • In order to remain housed, older people are “skimping” on necessities
  • The needs of older adults are not going to be met by a large portion of America’s available housing
  • Driving is essential to living in America, and older adults who don’t have the ability will feel isolated
  • Older people’s independence is at risk because of the increased costs associated with the lack of integration between housing and healthcare
  • It is not too late to help a majority of aging Americans

Some Boomers skeptical about the potential for positive outcomes

At age 50, Richard Mize is not so sure about the positive note the report ends on, and with which Jones ends her list of 5 facts. He knows “older folks who are really struggling. My own house needs repairs and modifications I can’t afford.” He also says that because of these challenges facing older adults, “aging-in-place might as well be aging-in-space.” Because of his experience as one of the older adults the study refers to, Mize has a few bullet points of his own that he wants to highlight for the aging population:

  • “The existing housing stock is unprepared to meet the escalating need for affordability, accessibility, social connectivity, and supportive services.”
  • “High housing costs force millions of low-income older adults 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, preventing older adults with disabilities from living safely and comfortable in their homes.”
  • “The nation’s transportation and pedestrian infrastructure is generally ill-suited to those who cannot or choose not to drive, isolating older adults from friends and family.”
  • “Disconnects between housing programs and the health care system put many older adults with disabilities or long-term care needs at risk of premature institutionalization.”

You see, Mize admits that he is thankful for the hopeful note at the end of the study, but he is doubtful. He points out that Baby Boomers have “the most cause to be concerned” because they “have not seen that much ‘effective action’ ‘at all levels of government’ working with the private and nonprofit sectors on a national level.” He cites the report’s point that the older population numbers are swelling because younger boomers are in their 50s, “‘with lower incomes, wealth, homeownership rates, and more debt than generations before them, members of this large age group may be unable to cover the costs of appropriate housing or long-term care in their retirement years.'”

Mize concludes by lamenting the fact that the study’s hope is awfully high and he’s not convinced that America understands the ramifications of such a swell in the older population: “Besides, ‘high quality,’ ‘independent,’ and ‘financially secure’ are not the usual attributes of the aged, not in history. It can’t happen without all, or at least most, members of a community pulling together across generations.”

Are you concerned about being able to afford aging? What is your plan for a financially secure and housed future? Share in the comments to get the discussion going.

Images via Flickr by Maria Popova and Dan Moyle

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