By, Xijia Yuan, Elder & Disability Law Clinic Student, Spring 2022
The United States is experiencing soaring senior population growth. The aging of the Baby Boomer generation is exposing many impending issues involving senior housing. Take Richmond, Virginia, as an example:
According to data observed by the Partnership for Housing Affordability, the senior population will have nearly doubled from 2010 to 2040. While seniors are the fastest-growing household type in the region, Richmond’s housing has not yet adapted to the particular needs and challenges of the growing population. Affordability and downsizing are among the senior housing needs.
Issues for Senior Homeowners
Many of this aging generation bought homes or refinanced in the early 2000, and now they still carry significant debt. Over the last twenty years, while the number of home-owning seniors rose by 60% in the Greater Richmond region, the number of mortgage-burdened seniors has more than doubled. This means that one in four senior homeowners are financial burdened by their mortgage. These seniors may face higher risk of foreclosure, which can cause issues with credit reports and compound major problems as they age. According to a 2018 study, over 70% of all senior homeowners live in a house valued below $200,000. Without enough equity, these seniors cannot afford to have other housing choices, such as newer houses in walkable neighborhoods. To make matters worse, the median sale price of a house in Richmond has risen 56% from 2009 to 2018, while real wages in Richmond have stayed relatively stagnant, making many housing options nearly inaccessible for aging seniors.
As people age and adult children move out, family homes of many years no longer fit senior households. Mobility challenges make it impossible to climb stairs or maintain a yard. When single-family residential zoning is the default for cities like Richmond, housing supply cannot meet seniors’ downsizing needs.
Issues for Senior Renters
A lack of affordable housing options leads to increasing numbers of rent-burdened seniors compared to twenty years ago. On limited fixed incomes, seniors face significant housing insecurity when younger renters with higher income are competing for the same rental options. When senior households spend more than 30% of their income on rent, they often compromise on meeting other needs and their overall quality of life. When providing shelter becomes the main source of financial burden, low-income seniors must cut spending elsewhere. They may have to skip medications or visits to the doctor, or, they are compelled to choose cheap food over healthy food.
Expanding Housing Types to Provide Relief
A movement called Missing Middle Housing may help address some of the aforementioned issues that seniors face. While these housing options require legislative actions that abandon single-family zoning, they provide seniors worthwhile advantages. Housing types such as duplexes, fourplexes, cottage courts, and courtyard buildings are intentionally designed to be smaller, which is appealing to downsizing seniors. They are ideal for those with mobility challenges or those wanting a reduced workload. The smaller housing units also mean smaller mortgages and lower rents, which are extremely helpful for seniors on fixed incomes. When developers build or renovate these types of homes, they can make housing more accessible through ADA-compliant features or age-friendly design practices. They also provide a stronger sense of community, which is linked to many health benefits for seniors.
 See Senior Housing Needs: Where We’re Going, Partnership for Housing Affordability, https://pharva.com/framework/findings/senior-housing/#1578515267045-29b2fa43-e9d9.
 See Senior Housing Needs: Where We’ve Been, Partnership for Housing Affordability, https://pharva.com/framework/findings/senior-housing/#1578515261273-a3179f6f-8b98.
 See Partnership for Housing Affordability, Housing the Richmond Region: Needs, Impediments, and Strategies 12.
 See Senior Housing Needs, Where We Are, Partnership for Housing Affordability, https://pharva.com/framework/findings/senior-housing/#1578515263222-5c3d40fa-de2c.
 See Housing Needs of the Rental Market: Where We’ve Been, Partnership for Housing Affordability, https://pharva.com/framework/findings/rental-market/.
 See What is Missing Middle Housing? https://missingmiddlehousing.com/about.
 See Making Space to Age in Place, https://www.missingmiddlearlington.net/insights/making-space-to-age-in-place?mc_cid=072841644d&mc_eid=d51065de6e.