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Housing Options for Senior Citizens

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When you think of “senior living,” what do you see? A cottage with shutters in some bucolic space? Or maybe a low-maintenance apartment community where you no longer have to handle household chores? How about an RV retirement park or even a retirement houseboat?

Senior living isn’t limited to just a few choices anymore. Demand for housing is growing, as Americans live longer, often healthier, lives, and the number of older adults expands. That, in turn, is creating a diversity of housing options — many of which are quite different from a generation ago.

Here is our guide to senior housing options, which includes those that are currently popular and those becoming more so. Read along to sort out the best option for you.

Senior-age households are growing

The number of older Americans is soaring. A woman turning 65 in 2019 can expect to live to 86.6 years, while a man turning 65 in 2019 has a life expectancy of 84.3 years, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as analyzed by the University of Southern California.

More than 55% of households in the U.S. are now headed by someone aged 50 and over; and over the past several years, the most significant growth in older households has come from those aged 65 to 74, according to a 2018 report on the challenges of housing older adults from the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University (JCHS).

As older households grow in number, senior housing needs and demands are changing, too. Here are some of the changes taking place:

  • Older people want to stay put. Some 61% of those 65 and older say they still want to stay in their own homes if they’re unable to care for themselves, and just 8% would be happy living with family members, according to the Pew Research Center. Only 21% would prefer an assisted living facility or nursing home.
  • Living alone is a real option. In 1900, almost no one 65 and older lived alone; but in 2014, according to Pew’s analysis of census data, 32% of women and 18% of men over 65 lived by themselves.
  • Affordability is a growing problem for many older Americans.

Seniors may have to settle for what they need, not what they want

If you or someone you love is older, you probably already know the definition of desirable housing can change with age and health status. That’s why Jennifer Molinsky, a senior research associate at Harvard University and the lead researcher for the report described above, advises older Americans to “Think about your options before you are forced to make a change.”

According to Molinksy, options for senior housing could grow even faster and be more diverse if there was more community consensus on how to go about creating housing for older adults.

“Potentially, there are a host of really great options, but often they can’t be built at the local level because of cost and zoning issues,” Molinsky said. “Housing stock in the U.S. is generally single-family. Maybe some older buyers want a condo — a situation where there is less upkeep — but because most of the housing growth is in areas zoned for single-family homes, it can be hard to get the OK to build things like condos.”

There is also the cost factor. According to the Harvard study, in 2016, about one-third of Americans households 65 and older — 9.7 million — spent more than 30% of their income on housing, qualifying this group as “cost burdened.” In general, the study says, “affordable, accessible housing located in age-friendly communities and linked to health supports is particularly in short supply.”

As a first step, consider making the home you have age-friendly

Your once-perfect home may no longer offer everything you need or want as you get older. For instance, you may have steep stairs, or your bathroom may have skinny doors that won’t accommodate a walker or a wheelchair. Harvard’s Molinsky urges people who want to live out their lives in the same home to remodel before they actually need age-friendly features.

The National Aging in Place Council recommends no-step entries at every door, as well as a garage lift to make it easier to enter your home from a wheelchair, without navigating stairs. For bathrooms, the council suggests a higher toilet, lowered sink, a walk-in shower and grab bars; and for kitchens, it recommends modifications such as a raised dishwasher, lower countertops and a sink with knee clearance underneath.

Help is available for people who can’t afford these modifications through programs offered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). You may discover that your state or local community offers money for these kinds of projects, too.

Buy or build a new home that is age-friendly

It’s usually less expensive to buy a home that someone has already modified to be age- friendly; but if you’d like to build your own, the National Association of Home Builders offers design ideas and a directory of certified aging-in-place remodeling specialists.

If money is an issue, consider a community of manufactured homes, long popular with retirees for their affordability and ability to foster a sense of community and space. According to the Manufactured Housing Institute, manufactured homes, on a square-foot basis, cost half as much as new homes built on site.

Choose or create a community that will help you age in place

Sometimes neighbors in single-family homes or low-rise apartment buildings come together informally, in naturally occurring retirement communities, or NORCs, to share social activities and step up when someone needs help.

In more formal groups, such as The Village to Village Network, a membership group, small communities of residents pay a fee and come together to provide services such as transportation, home repair and social support. The communities are staffed with both volunteers and paid staff.

How do you find a NORC? NORCs are usually communities where at least half the population is 60 or older. You can start by checking this map to see U.S. Census tracts that show the share of the population 65 and over. Once you locate a potential community, search for housing and ask questions: Residents may not realize they live in a NORC, but they will probably identify with you if you describe your needs and interests. Condominiums and cooperative apartment buildings are good places to start.

Join an active adult community

Active-adult communities come in many forms and can include neighborhoods of single-family homes, condominiums, townhomes and manufactured homes. Typically, they cater to residents who are 55 and up, offer resort-style amenities and are also close to health care facilities, restaurants and entertainment. Many also offer low-maintenance homes and scheduled activities, with residents usually only paying a fee to a homeowners association.

Active-adult communities don’t usually provide on-site health care, so they aren’t a substitute for an assisted living or similar facility. Here’s a search engine that may help you get started finding one you like.

Consider cohousing

Cohousing may sound like something from your hippie days, but the cohousing being built today is often full of amenities.

Cohousing is usually a community of private homes grouped around some kind of shared space or building, where residents might gather together to cook, eat, do laundry or share recreational activities, such as movies and games. Some communities offer special amenities, such as pools, community gardens and craft rooms.

According to The Cohousing Association of the United States (Coho/US), a nonprofit advocacy and support group, cohousing typically brings together 20 to 40 homes and cultivates a culture of sharing and close relationships. Green living is common, too.

Interested? Coho/US maintains a cohousing directory that currently lists 165 established communities and 140 more being formed.

Check out continuing care retirement communities

In a continuing care retirement community (CCRC), you start off living independently in an apartment; and as you require more care, the CCRC provides assistance typically at every level, from occasional help with activities, such as bathing and dressing, to skilled nursing care. Amenities can include a community dining room, entertainment, fitness and wellness centers and planned outings.

On the plus side, CCRCs provide the comfort of knowing you’ll be well cared for as long as you live, without having to rely on family members. However, the downside is cost.

There are many different business models for CCRCs, so the fee to buy a unit in the communities may range widely, from $80,000 to $750,000, according to SeniorLiving.org, a referral service for the industry. In addition, most CCRCs charge a monthly fee, which can range from $1,300 to $5400. Rental CCRCs usually require lower entrance fees but still have monthly fees.

MyLifeSite will help you compare costs for CCRC and see how much you can afford.

Maybe a rental is right for you

Even if you have owned your own home for most of your life, renting after you retire may be the right decision.

Renting can give you more control over housing costs; if the roof leaks or the air conditioning dies, repairs and maintenance are somebody else’s problem. It also could wind up being cheaper on a monthly basis, if you consider what you’re now paying for a mortgage, property taxes, insurance and other costs associated with owning a home. Potential downsides: Rising rental costs, stringent pet rules and often strict rules on modifying (or even painting) your rental to make it feel like home. Also, you will forgo built-up ,a href=”https://www.lendingtree.com/home/home-equity/”>equity in your home, which may be useful to tap into for retirement income or paying off other expenses.

Still, more older Americans are thinking rentals. In a 2016 survey of Americans 55 and up, the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation — better known as Freddie Mac — estimated some 6 million Americans and nearly as many renters prefer to both move again and rent at some point.

Keep the cost modest by choosing a low-cost option

HUD has a housing program that provides funds to apartment owners who, in turn, provide lower rents to seniors and others with low incomes. Use this HUD search engine to find senior apartments in the areas where you want to live.

Senior housing cooperatives are another option for keeping costs low. Like other housing cooperatives, senior co-ops are nonprofit corporations where residents pay a monthly fee that covers their share of the co-op’s operating expenses, such as underlying mortgage payments, property taxes, maintenance, insurance and utilities. In many senior housing cooperatives, the sale price of the units are carefully controlled and kept low. Seniors typically live in full apartments or townhouses.

According to the Senior Cooperative Foundation, senior co-cops usually include a good amount of community space and may also provide meal service and light housekeeping. Income restrictions often apply.

To find a senior housing co-op in your area, check the housing list maintained by the Senior Cooperative Foundation; also check the directories maintained by National Association of Housing Cooperatives.

Nonprofit senior housing is yet another option. Most of this housing is owned by religious and charitable organizations and is mission-driven, so the costs for residents are lower than they might be in similar for-profit residences. Here is a list of the 200 largest nonprofit senior living providers, as compiled annually by LeadingAge, an association of nonprofit aging service providers, and Zeigler, an underwriter of financing for nonprofit senior living providers. The list is not an endorsement of specific providers, but it will point you toward the largest such provider in your area.

The bottom line

Look for a senior housing option that you can afford and meets your lifestyle needs and desires. More options are available than ever before. To see how MagnifyMoney, a subsidiary of LendingTree, ranked the best places for seniors to live, look here.


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