The inequality in housing among seniors is becoming a major concern. As American households become older—between 2012-2017, the number of households headed by someone 65 or older jumped from 27 million to 31 million and will continue to grow—the number of older adults facing housing cost burdens reached an all-time high of 10 million, income disparities are widening, and white-minority gaps in homeownership have expanded.

A report from Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, Housing America’s Older Adults 2019, a supplement to the Center’s annual State of the Nation’s Housing report, shows lower-income households falling further behind their higher-earning peers in income growth. Between 2012-2017, the incomes of households age 65 and over in the top 10% increased by 22% while incomes of those in the bottom 10% fell by 4%. Additionally, the median income for the highest earners between the ages of 50-64 set a record of nearly $204,000 in 2017, while the median income for the lowest earners, $14,400, was lower than the 2000 level of $17,100.

In 2016, the median homeowner age 65 and older had a net worth of $319,200, compared to the same-age renter whose net worth was just $6,700. Additionally, owners who have paid off their mortgage have lower housing costs, at a monthly median of $458, compared to renters’ monthly cost of $830.

Given these growing affordability challenges, combined with low rates of housing accessibility and a lack of services in the areas where many older Americans live, addressing these issues will require action at all levels of government and industry. Affordable housing, once considered a problem of the inner city, will have to be expanded to all areas of the country to accommodate the aging-in-place households as well as provide homes for seniors seeking to relocate.

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