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 Close To Home: What Will Seniors Housing Look Like In The Future?

“Home” is often associated with feelings of warmth, comfort, and security, especially during the holiday season. But for the millions of aged 50+ Americans living below the poverty level, the word “home” evokes feelings of anxiety and concern.

The AARP Foundation reports that approximately 19 million low-income 50+ households in America cannot afford their housing costs or currently live in inadequate housing.  

Last week, The Atlantic and AARP sponsored the one-day Housing for Tomorrow conference in Washington, D.C., to examine this very issue.  In a panel titled, “Urban Life, Affordability, and a Growing and Aging Population,” Bruce Katz (director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at The Brookings Institution), Edward Pinto (co-director of the International Center on Housing Risk at the American Enterprise Institute), and Adrianne Todman (executive director of the D.C. Housing Authority) sat down to discuss the future of housing and what it will look like for the 50+ community as the need for affordable urban housing grows.

Suburbs Out, Urban Areas In

Katz said that American cities will continue to get denser as urban populations age and more residents reach retirement. This phenomenon will intensify the need for affordable housing. Conversely, as national priorities remain on issues surrounding national security and affordable health care, funding for affordable housing is being pushed down to the local level. As city and state governments take on more levels of responsibility, Pinto also optimistically sees this as an opportunity for “localities and the private sector to address these issues.”

Because of high development costs and limited property space, developers and investors often overlook seniors housing projects in urban areas. In recent years, however, demographic preferences for close proximity to resources, community, and aging in place have opened an opportunity for developers to invest in safe housing options in metropolitan areas. This trend is not limited to the 50+ population, as many Millennials are also opting for the perks of proximity that urban life has to offer.

Cities Face Identity Crises

In the panel, Todman recounted the dramatic changes seen in the nation’s capitol over the past 25 years.  Much of the city has been transformed with new businesses; new people; and flourishing, revitalized neighborhoods.  Despite the economic benefits these  developments provide to many residents, these changes also bring a number of challenges.   

An average of 1,000 new residents move into Washington, D.C., each month. This high demand and limited supply of housing options has created a seller’s market. Todman framed the issue as one of value-orientation and, in particular, stressed the importance of maintaining affordable housing options, even in the trendiest of neighborhoods.  She asked, “Is it ok that D.C. looks different? Who are we as a community?” As cities like Washington begin to create new policies and recreate urban spaces, they should also take these issues into consideration.  

Creative Fundraising Needed

In a metropolitan area, redesigning the way they think about seniors housing is a necessary undertaking for planners. Aesthetics can be crucial— many people still want to see green spaces and charm incorporated into their urban homes, just as they would in suburban areas, Todman said. As the demand for independent urban seniors housing options continues to rise, affordable development becomes a viable opportunity for a multitude of buyers, including established continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) looking to expand into the in-home-care market or in-home-caregivers looking to expand their services by providing housing.

The panelists at the conference agreed that financing these projects will present some obstacles. However, with a fresh creative drive, the creation of new partnerships, and the reallocation of government funding, research and development in affordable housing could, according to Katz, “underpin another sort of spurt of innovative growth in the United States” and allow more people to participate in the economy and again be comfortable in their own homes.  


Molly LeGrand has worked as an activities professional for 10 years. She is currently a graduate student at the Erickson School, UMBC. She can be reached at mollylegrand@ymail.com​.
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