Heading off a housing crisis for an aging America

Debates about improving America’s infrastructure typically focus on projects like bridges, roads, railroads and power grids. But with President-Elect Donald Trump calling for $1 trillion in infrastructure spending over the next 10 years, here is an item that should be added to that list: affordable housing for seniors.

By 2035, one of every three U.S. households will be headed by someone aged 65 or older, according to a new study by the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies (JCHS) – an increase of a whopping 66 percent to 50 million households. Households headed by people aged 80 and older will increase at the fastest rate – more than doubling to 16 million.

We are not ready for this dramatic transformation – not even close, the Harvard researchers conclude.

Wealthier people will have the means to adapt their housing to fit their needs – although signs suggest few are laying the groundwork for that. Less than 5 percent of homes have elements such as zero-step home entrances, single-floor living and wide halls and doorways that can accommodate wheelchairs, according to JCHS.

But the biggest problem will be a bulging population of low-income seniors.

The number of seniors earning less than 80 percent of their area median income will nearly double by 2035, to 27 million, according to the report. These households will face enormous challenges paying for housing and supportive services, with housing expenses sapping resources bad needed for food and healthcare.

JCHS defines any housing cost higher than 30 percent of income as a “burden,” and the number of burdened households will rise sharply over the coming two decades: by 2035, some 8.6 million people will be paying more than half their income for housing.

Learn more in my Reuters Money column.

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