The Center for Housing Policy recently published a report concluding that adults age 65 and older soon will face a severe shortage of affordable housing that meets their physical and social needs. One of the significant findings in “Housing an Aging Population: Are We Prepared?” confirms that the majority of older adults prefer to stay in their current homes rather than move to a retirement community.

However, many cannot afford the modifications needed to make their homes support their quality of life. Most of these homeowners also live in the suburbs where access to services, shops, and social events can be challenging.

Emily Salomon, the center’s state and local policy coordinator, was one of the study’s authors and she talked with us about the housing challenges seniors are facing. Salomon, who conducted and read extensive research on this topic, shares some of her findings below.

Q & A

Is there evidence that older adults want to age in place?

There have been many consumer preference surveys that have been done and AARP has led that charge. They found that nine out of 10 older adults want to age in place. But as their physical needs change their house may not accommodate their needs. Can they access the services and amenities they need or even social interaction?

Can building or renovating houses based on universal design principals help them stay in their homes?

Demand for renovations or customizations may increase, but they present cost barriers. Most modifications range from smaller grab bars or ramps, but others may cost thousands. More than 1 in 3 people who needed modifications didn’t get them because of affordability.

There are also barriers in the community to aging in place. The location of the home is another factor to take into consideration. More than half of 65 and older adults live in the suburbs. They may not have access to transit when they lose their driver’s license.

Is there a trend of older adults moving to more walkable urban areas to gain access to services?

Resources on preferences of older adults moving into urban areas say that people want to live closer to transit and walkable amenities. But most of those people currently live in suburbs and also want to stay near their friends and familiar places. Renters are almost twice as likely as homeowners to live in central cities, but the numbers show that a larger amount of older adult renters live in suburbs rather than cities.

What are some of the solutions for creating affordable, safe housing for older adults?

There’s definitely a need for greater choices. Many communities have building codes prohibiting housing options that could meet the demand for older adults, like accessory dwelling units or even just smaller houses. In terms of policy, land use planning can have a huge impact on the types of homes that can or can’t be built.

Another option is providing services where there are densities of older adults already living. Using census data we can determine locations where there are a lot of people aging in place. Communities can target services to older adults that are already living in close communities. These are called NORCs—naturally occurring retirement communities.

We still need expanded choices for a growing older adult population. There needs to be a real mix in all kinds of locations. There should be options in suburban communities where people already live; more reasonably priced options in mixed-use or multifamily buildings that have access to shops, restaurants, doctors, and other services; and more retirement communities with various levels of care near places older adults want to live.