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Harvard: Number of cost-burdened senior households hits all-time high

Affordable housing options for seniors are becoming harder to find

Over the next two decades, households in their 80s will be the fastest-growing age group. 

That’s according to a recent study by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, which found that more older Americans than ever are cost-burdened. 

The Department of Housing and Urban Development defines cost-burdened families as those who use more than 30% of their income to pay for housing. With the increase in numbers of households 65 and over, the study noted that a widening gap in housing inequality is becoming more apparent. 

“Within the next decade, some 18 million adults will be in their 80s — many living alone and on limited incomes. The need for affordable, accessible housing and in-home supportive services is therefore set to soar,” the report states. 

Between 2016 and 2017, the number of cost-burdened households age 65 and over increased more than 200,000 to a new high of nearly 10 million. Of those, around 5 million of these households are severely burdened, meaning they are paying over half their incomes for housing. 

Renters in this age group were even more likely to face cost burdens. Within this category, over half, 54%, are cost-burdened, compared to the 26% of homeowners. That said, the number of cost-burdened owners, 6.3 million, was far higher than renters, 3.6 million, facing the same challenges. This is simply because the rate of homeownership is much higher for older Americans. 

“While many households now of retirement age have the means to age in place or move to other suitable housing, a record number are cost burdened and will have few affordable housing options as they age,” the report said. “In addition, many older renters are less well-positioned than homeowners because they have lower cash savings and wealth.”

With these numbers rising, the JCHS report concluded with a call to action.

“Providing the types of housing and neighborhoods needed by an aging population depends on concerted action by both the public and private sectors. Commitments to create age-friendly communities and the recent funding of affordable housing construction for older adults are promising starts,” the report concluded.

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