Housing a Growing Population of Aging Americans

By KC Hernandez ; Updated June 19, 2017
Smiling senior women in pool

The growing baby boomer population may be getting older, but they have new ideas when it comes to housing. As their income, familial status, and physical needs change, the boomer generation needs viable living arrangements, which are increasingly found in nontraditional places, such as living with with friends in similar situations. Community, resources, and shared values are some factors boomers consider when deciding where, how and who to live with in their golden years.

A Little Help From Friends

Older Americans are rethinking the typical housing models that consisted of retirement communities, assisted living, moving in with adult children, or staying in a place no longer suited to their elderly needs. Boomers are choosing housing arrangements that allow them to live within a community while maintaining control and companionship, according to Melissa Stanton of AARP.

Housesharing arrangements involve an owner who invites friends, relatives or tenants to move into their home to share costs and chores. Whether the same age or within different generations, the housemates benefit from companionship and cost effectiveness. The housesharing arrangement may also involve two or more friends choosing to rent or purchase a home that suits all of their needs.

Cohousing is slightly different in that it involves housemates who have their own private living space within a home, but maintain common areas for communal living, such as meals and entertainment. There is no shared ownership interest in the home, but some services may be hired, such as care, cleaning and cooking. A person or family may own the home where multiple generations of residents can reside.

Logistics of Living Together

Whether strangers or long-time friends, when moving in together, it's essential that boomers follow certain steps. Chores, communal property, pets, noise, and cleanliness should be negotiated before moving in or buying a home together and put in writing, along with the financial terms, via a home-share agreement. Boomers should draw up on agreement that covers at least the following points:

  • How owners will take title, if purchasing the co-owned property
  • How mortgage, down payment, rent and other living expenses will be divided
  • What happens if one person is unable to fulfill financial obligations?
  • How will the home's spaces be used and shared?
  • Subletting, guest and maintenance rules
  • What happens if someone gets ill or dies?

Demographics of Elderly Americans

The older population is growing at an unprecedented rate, with the 50-and-older group estimated to increase 20 percent by 2030 – that's 132 million baby boomers who will need a place to live, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. Younger boomers currently in their 50s tend to be less financially secure than previous generations as a result of the Great Recession. This poses a particular problem for young boomers who seek to age in place, that is, in their own homes rather than in a retirement or assisted living establishment. With less wealth and lower incomes, they are less able to afford the type of housing that accommodates changing cognitive and physical needs. A larger group of young boomers are also less likely to be parents, and therefore, less likely to have relatives who will house and care for them as they age. Moreover, single-person households make up 40 percent of households in their 70s, and 60 percent of single-person households are in their 80s. Women are also more likely to live alone, according to findings by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University.

Cost, Disabilities and Isolation Top Housing Concerns

One third of adult homeowners over the age of 50 are burdened by housing costs that exceed 30 percent of their income, meaning they must skimp on other essentials such as food and healthcare. Homeownership among boomers is a boon, even when they still carry mortgages; however, the rate of ownership varies widely by race and ethnicity. Only about 1 percent of home in the U.S. have all of the necessary accessibility features for disabled and elderly residents, making finding housing difficult and renovating to suit elderly needs expensive. Isolated locations, limited mobility and transportation impact baby boomers' abilities to stay connected within their communities while still living independently. It also limits the resources and connections they can take advantage of.

About the Author

K.C. Hernandez has covered real estate topics since 2009. She is a licensed real estate salesperson in San Diego since 2004. Her articles have appeared in community newspapers but her work is mostly online. Hernandez has a Bachelor of Arts in English from UCLA and works as the real estate expert for Demand Media Studios.