Harvard: Rising Debt Jeopardizes Aging in Place

Increased supports will be needed to care for America’s large and growing senior population in their homes, new research shows. And affordability of these supports—and housing options generally—is particularly pressing, as seniors’ debt load is rising.

Many older adults live alone, have at least one type of disability, and have limited resources to pay for suitable housing, according to the latest report by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies (JCHS). “The State of the Nation’s Housing” provides an annual assessment of the housing outlook, and summarizes trends in economics and demographics. 

“As a result, the demand for units that are affordable, accessible, and provide social connection as well as supportive services will grow increasingly acute over the next two decades,” JCHS said in the report.

Aging baby boomers will lift the number of older households aged 65 and over 42% by 2025, and double the number aged 80 and over by 2035, data show.

“In another decade, the oldest members of this generation will be in their late 70s, a time of life when living independently often becomes difficult,” JCHS said. “By 2025, the large and growing population of seniors is likely to drive up demand for alternative housing arrangements that offer a combination of affordability, accessibility, and supportive services.”

Senior homeowners’ financial picture is worrisome, as those who choose to age in place face rising debt and wealth constraints that may leave many retired homeowners struggling to meet their mortgage payments.

More than a third (38%) of owners aged 65 and over had mortgages in 2013, up from a little over a quarter in 2001, data show.

“Moreover, the median amount of debt they carried doubled over this period in real terms,” JCHS said. At the same time, the real median equity of older owners in 2013 was down to $125,000—lower than in any year since 1998.

“Having less equity and large mortgage payments late in life is a troubling prospect for households on fixed incomes,” JCHS said.

Access the report here.

Written by Cassandra Dowell