Urban Research Monitor
Trends in Elderly Housing

In Housing America's Seniors, the Joint Center for Housing Studies uses data from a wide range of sources—including the 1997 American Housing Survey and the 1993 National Institute on Aging's Assets and Health Dynamics—to document how America is aging and how the burgeoning senior population is influencing the housing industry. The Joint Center is interested in providing leaders in government, business, and the nonprofit sector with the knowledge and tools to formulate effective senior housing policies and strategies.

Based on all data on seniors available to its analysts, the Joint Center predicts that seniors will live healthier, longer lives with greater financial resources. The combination of greater prosperity and technology, the center's publication says, will permit seniors to select from a much wider choice of housing options than ever before.

What sort of picture does the Joint Center paint? Because of their large numbers, seniors will be an important source of demand for new housing. If today's experience is any guide, seniors will continue to move to new primary residences as well as to purchase second homes after retirement. Currently, approximately 40 percent of all seniors change their primary residence at some point after their 60th birthday. This new housing demand will cover all types of senior housing from conventional housing to age-restricted communities, both assisted and unassisted.

More seniors will elect to live in conventional housing until they are very old and infirm. When asked, today's seniors overwhelmingly say that they would prefer to remain in their own homes as they age. There is no reason to believe that they will feel any differently about this 30 years from now. More important, most of tomorrow's seniors will have the money and the technology to do so. As they age and experience increased difficulties in performing daily activities, seniors will find that a whole new industry of home services has grown up to serve their special needs. This will include labor-intensive personal services and new assistive equipment and devices.

In addition to having a greater array of in-home services available to them, tomorrow's elderly increasingly will modify their homes to compensate for the loss of mobility and other problems related to aging. Currently, seniors can accommodate impaired mobility with ramps, grab bars, and more accessible cabinetry and appliances, but the future holds the potential for dramatic possibilities that we can barely imagine today, such as gyro-balance wheelchairs that can navigate uneven ground and climb stairs.

For seniors who cannot continue to live in their own homes without assistance, there will be many special care alternatives to nursing homes. It is difficult to say exactly what forms these special care alternatives will take, but today's arrangements may provide a clue. Currently, the most relied on special care arrangements (in order of their popularity) include:

  • Residing in shared housing (living under one roof), a living arrangement in which either an elderly person has moved in with a nonelderly person or a nonelderly person has moved in with an elderly person for the express purpose of assistance.

  • Residing in supported housing, where the elderly person receives help from a non- family member. (The nonfamily individual doesn't necessarily live in.)

  • Living in an assisted community, in which the elderly person is provided with some services or assistance in an age-restricted residential setting.

Presently, approximately 10 percent of seniors aged 70 to 74 live in one of these special care environments. This increases to approximately 60 percent at age 90.

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