The Hunt For Senior-Friendly Housing

BY ERIK J. MARTIN ON APRIL 21ST, 2017

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Many people live in a make-believe real estate world in which they think their homes – and their bodies – will never get old. But the truth is that both will begin to show signs of wear as the years pass, and graying Americans may be inadequately prepared to age gracefully in their current or future residences.

The latter is among the key findings of a new alarming report by the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, which reveals:

• more than one in five Americans will be aged 65 and older, and one in three households will be headed by someone in that age group by 2035;

• this growth will amplify demand for accessible, affordable housing with universal design elements and senior-friendly services that surpass what the current supply can provide;

• by 2035, 11 million homeowners and 6.4 million low-income renters will pay more than 30 percent of their incomes for housing; 8.6 million will pay more than 50 percent of their income.

“This report demonstrates that our existing housing stock and baby boomers’ financial circumstances are on a collision course to disaster,” says Jennifer Pinck, president of Pinck & Co., a construction management consulting firm in Boston. “The housing supply is mismatched with seniors’ needs due to the age and type of housing and because a large percentage of the population live in low-density areas where access to services and community resources is limited.”

Rhonda Duffy, CEO/founder of Duffy Realty in Atlanta, says the demand for senior-friendly housing in the coming years will be unprecedented.

“Americans today are not only going into their golden years in larger numbers, they are going into them healthier than their predecessors – so they will be in their 70s, 80s, and 90s longer and have an even greater need for senior housing,” Duffy says.

Her solution?

“Make more money, prepare to retire later, and be nicer to your kids,” Duffy says, only half-jokingly.

Mike Townshend, retirement coach from Delmar, Md., and author of “Living Well Later in Life” (Author House, 2017), says the first thing Americans need to do to better ensure they’ll have an accommodating place in which to live down the road is have a reality check.

“Engage with your spouse or significant other and your larger family via a set of meetings where everyone’s thoughts can be heard, research assigned, commitments agreed to, and action planning begun,” Townshend says. “You need to set in motion a plan for living well later in life that may include aging in place and having a graduation plan for infirmities if you cannot live solo.”

To remain living comfortably and safely in your current home, forward-thinking and key upgrades may be required, “including ramps, handicap-accessible bathrooms, converting a dining or living room on the main floor to a master bedroom, converting an unused bonus room as a potential bedroom for an overnight caregiver, and easy-to-maintain landscaping,” Duffy says. “When these upgrades would cost more than the closing costs, loan fees and real estate agent commissions to purchase a comparably priced home that already has these senior-capable features, it may be better to purchase than renovate.”

At minimum, three essential modifications should include grab bars in the bathroom, zero-access entryways, lever door handles and rocker (not flip) light switches, says Florence Kawoczka, executive director for Habitat for Humanity of Bucks County in Chalfont, Pa., which provides home modifications for older adults.

“These are fairly low-budget, easy fixes homeowners can do on their own or have done quickly by a local remodeler that will allow them to age in place and maintain their independence,” Kawoczka says.

Leave no rock unturned in your senior housing planning.

“Consider moving in with others, renting out a room to graduate students, and getting used to the idea of having a roommate,” Pinck says.

If you’re pondering moving to an assisted-living community, be sure to do your homework.

“Issues related to safety, cleanliness and care must be top of mind. There are many places that simply don’t have the staff, funding or resources to ensure against neglect or abuse,” says Jeffrey Wolf, Los Angeles-based personal injury attorney with Heimanson & Wolf LLP who recommends researching assisted-living facilities/communities at Medicare.gov. “Additionally, evaluate the facilities to ensure they are clean, well-lit, and well-ventilated and have favorable staff-to-resident ratios and well-groomed, content and occupied senior residents.”

Lastly, be active in your community “and advocate zoning changes that encourage housing development, greater density, and configurations that allow multi-generational living,” Pinck says.

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