As Households Age, Emphasis on Accessibility Increases

The number of U.S. households headed by individuals over the age of 50 increased by approximately 5 million between 2012 and 2017, according to the Housing America’s Older Adults 2019 report released by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies (JCHS). The report also suggests cost burdens for elderly homeowners are increasing and income disparities are widening.

According to the report, there were 31 million households headed by individuals over the age of 65 when data was most recently collected in 2017, an increase of 4 million households from 2012. The report finds the increase in aging individuals will lift the share of U.S. households headed by individuals older than 65 years old to 34% in 2038 from 36% in 2018. More specifically, the number of households aged 75-79 will increase by 49% in the next 10 years and rise to 10.7 million by 2038. According to the report’s estimates, households headed by individuals over the age of 80 will account for 12% of the housing stock by 2038. This aging population will likely increase the demand for affordable, accessible housing in the short-term future.

The report found that just 3.5% of all U.S. homes had basic accessibility features, including grab-bars or handrails in the bathroom, extra-wide hallways and doors, and a bedroom on the entry level, in 2011. Subsidized housing occupied by older adults is more likely to have such features than unsubsidized units.

Given that mobility and other difficulties increase with age, the report projects many older homeowners will need to make accessibility improvements if they want to age in place. Ten percent of homeowners between 65 and 79 indicated they had spent on home improvement related to accessibility in the past year, and 14% of those older than 80 had spent on such projects. Owners older than 50 spent significantly more of their home improvement budgets (26%) on bathroom remodels and room additions—projects that are often accessibility-related—than same-age owners who did not cite accessibility as a motivation (13%).

The Housing America’s Older Adults 2019 report supplements the JCHS’s annual State of the Nation’s Housing report

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