The number of households headed by someone age 70 or older will
surge by 42 percent from 2015 to 2025, according to a report on the
state of housing released last month by the Joint Center for Housing
Studies of Harvard University, or JCHS (http://bit.ly/1kKwpkW).
The Harvard researchers note that a majority of those households
will be aging in place, not downsizing or moving to retirement
communities. That will have implications for an array of support
services people will need as they age.
But the housing age wave comes at a time when federal programs that
provide those supports are treading water in Washington. Consider
the signature federal legislation that helps fund community planning
and service programs for independent aging, the Older Americans Act.
The OAA supports everything from home-delivered meals to
transportation and caregiver support programs - and importantly,
helps communities plan for future needs as their populations get
States and municipalities use the federal dollars they receive via
the OAA to leverage local funding. The law requires reauthorization
every five years, a step that has been on hold in Congress since
2011. Funding has continued during that time, with one exception:
During sequestration in March 2013, OAA programs were cut by 5
percent; many have since been reversed, but other cuts now appear to
A survey last year by the National Association of Area Agencies on
Aging (NAAAA), which represents local government aging service
providers, found that some states had reduced nutrition programs,
transportation services and caregiver support programs.
Recovery since then has been uneven, according to Sandy Markwood,
chief executive officer of the NAAAA. “In some cases, states made up
the differences, but many programs still are not back to
But here's the more critical point: Even if all the cuts had been
restored, treading water wouldn’t be good enough in light of the
challenges communities will soon face.
“From a planning perspective, putting in place things like
infrastructure and transportation services takes time,” Markwood
says. “We don’t have the luxury of time here.”
Indeed, aging of communities is shaping up as a signature trend as
the housing industry continues its slow recovery after the crash of
Young people typically drive household formation, but the Harvard
study notes that millennials haven’t shown up in big numbers because
of the economic headwinds they face. Real median incomes fell 8
percent from 2007 to 2012 among 35- to 44-year-olds, JCHS notes, and
the share of 25- to 34-year-old households carrying student loan
debt soared from 26 percent to 39 percent. Meanwhile, home prices
have been jumping, and qualifying for mortgage loans remains
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Millennials eventually will account for a bigger share of households
as more marry and start having families, according to the study. But
for now, boomers are the story.
The oldest boomers start turning 70 after 2015, and the number of
these households will jump by 8.3 million from 2014 to 2025. Most
will be staying right where they are. Mobility rates (the share of
people who move each year) typically fall with age: Less than 4
percent of people over age 65 moved in 2013, compared with 21
percent of 18- to 34-year-olds and 12 percent for those 35 to 45.
Mobility has been on a downward trend since the 1990s, and the
housing crisis accelerated the trend, according to Daniel McCue,
research manager at JCHS.
Aging in place could create problems in suburbs, which are designed
around driving, McCue says. “People are going to need a more
distributed network of services for transportation, healthcare and
shopping in the suburbs. They’ll need some way to get to services or
for the services to get to them.”
There is one possible silver lining in this story: The needs of
aging-in-place seniors could spur better community planning. If so,
the elderly won’t be the only group that benefits.
“When you do things to make roads safer or increase public
transportation, or add volunteer driver programs, that’s good for
everyone in the community,” Markwood says. “It’s not a zero-sum
(The opinions expressed here are those of the author, a columnist
For more from Mark Miller, see http://link.reuters.com/qyk97s
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http://www.reuters.com/finance/personal-finance. Editing by Douglas
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