Experts Brief Capitol Hill on Aging-in-Place Threats

With an ever-increasing population of seniors and an abundance of health and spending issues on the horizon, industry groups are addressing how lawmakers can help seniors who live at home.

This week, Richard Johnson, senior fellow and director of the program on retirement policy from the Urban Institute, along with a panel of experts, briefed Capitol Hill staffers on the growing housing issue among the poorest seniors. The Urban Institute is an economic and social policy research group that focuses on issues surrounding American cities.

Panelists focused on previously-known data about poverty rates among seniors and the burdensome impacts of high housing costs. A newer measure of how many adults are living in poverty reveals that among seniors, the rate is higher than previously thought. Under the Census Bureau’s new Supplemental Poverty Measure, the poverty rate among seniors is nearly 14%, compared to a finding of 10% from previous measures.

The problem is not just that a higher number of seniors are living in poverty, but also how much seniors have to spend to remain in their homes, whether they rent or own their home. The panel emphasized that housing costs are “a huge financial burden for many retirees,” especially for the lowest earners.

Compared to aid that can be received though private health insurance, Medicaid or Medicare, there are few options for housing assistance.

The most damning impact of housing costs is that seniors spend more on housing than they do on health care. Adults over the age of 65 spent more than 25% of their income on housing in 2013, according to the Urban Institute.

The problem is also only expected to worsen. The number of households spending half their income on rent could rise 11% by 2025, according to research from Enterprise Community Partners and the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies. About 42% of these severely rent-burdened households will be among seniors 65 and older, even in the best case scenario.

Seniors who don’t rent are not exempt from high housing expenses, even if they own their home outright.

“The lack of a mortgage doesn’t reduce their housing costs much because they still have to pay property taxes, maintenance, repairs, insurance and utilities,” Johnson wrote on the issue. “In fact, those costs combined make up more than half of what older households with mortgages spend on housing.”

Some states, such as Ohio, are taking the initiative to include housing assistance for Medicare-Medicaid dual eligible people, by providing coordinated care. Vermont’s SASH program also provides coordinated care to help older adults remain at home.

Slashing expenses between housing and health care can increase savings for seniors, but bringing these state models to the forefront of lawmakers could help encourage a wider adoption for the most burdened older Americans.

Written by Amy Baxter