America's growing elderly population is reshaping the market for elderly housing, forcing policymakers, community planners, and housing developers to modify their approach to housing seniors. One in 8 Americans today is a senior citizen, compared with only 1 in 25 at the dawn of the 20th century. By 2030, when most baby boomers will have retired, this ratio will have increased to 1 in 5.
As seniors live healthier, longer lives, they are choosing housing with amenities that allow them to prolong their independence. Although most elderly would prefer to live out their final years in their own homes, their ability to age in place will depend on a complicated set of factors involving many public and private decisions. The most important factors include financial resources, physical and mental health, the presence of a spouse, and the availability of help from adult children.
Faced with growing elderly populations, communities will feel the increasing pressure to develop continuum of care plans to address the changing housing and service needs of their aging residents. The biggest challenge will be to assist the most vulnerable elderlywomen, minorities, and the oldest of the oldto find affordable, quality housing. To do this effectively, policymakers and local officials will need to understand senior economic and demographic trends and how the housing industry is responding to demand shifts in the market for senior housing.
Two new publications offer insight into this increasingly important area of public policy. Housing America's Seniors, prepared by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, provides a preliminary assessment of elderly housing demand, looking at the factors affecting whether seniors choose to live in assisted or unassisted communities, shared, supported, or conventional housing. Aging, Autonomy, and Architecture: Advances in Assisted Living, from the Johns Hopkins University Press, examines the evolution of assisted living facilities for seniors. Its 16 essays consider assisted living's residential character-istics, design, services, and philosophy of care, shedding light on how one segment of the housing industry is responding to the growing senior population.