What’s the Difference Between Low-Income and Affordable Senior Housing?

Affordable – “that can be afforded; believed to be within one’s financial means”.  The concept of affordable housing is gaining more attention across the country as a slow economic recovery sets in not only for seniors but for all demographics in the United States.  While affordability is typically defined on a local and regional level, many seniors are having to look outside their immediate communities for low cost alternatives to maximize their fixed incomes by looking at different states and even different parts of the world in some cases.  Drastic times are forcing drastic choices but as the challenges of finding, creating and maintaining affordable senior housing have been accelerated and exacerbated by the economic downturn what is a senior able to do?  This recently came from an anonymous SHN subscriber:

“As a retired Senior, at age 65 and in good health – I’m living in the world of "low income housing." Due to the economy – am working part-time at Target @ 20/hours a week to supplement my Social Security – which I started at age 62.  Am currently renting a room in a house in San Mateo, CA for $550/month.  Generally running me @ $600/month now including PG&E and Cable hookup for Internet and TV.  Had to come up with a $350 Security deposit to move in.

Being a fully Independent Senior there don’t appear to be many Senior Apartments / Independent Living communities around where I can rent and have the privacy of my own apartment for @$550/month.  Most Apartment rentals start at @$800/month +. “


Is this an income or an affordability issue for this reader?  How about both?  As long-term housing costs continue to rise faster than incomes, seniors (such as the reader above) will need to choose to either choose lower neighborhood and housing quality or move farther away from urban cores and farther from friends and family to find more affordable housing.  The problem with relocating seniors complicates things by adding travel costs and time and intangible costs of not living in familiar settings.

The survey from the Joint Center for Housing Studies that was released earlier this month shows that 16 percent of Americans spend HALF their incomes on housing.  While no specifics were given on seniors or boomers, it is easy to surmise that seniors might represent a large portion of those who pay almost 50% of their income on housing expenses.  One of the more telling pieces of the survey was that two thirds 2/3 of renter growth was among households 45-64.  This suggests that many homeowners are now renters and given the stage in their lives, may not be ready to purchase again.  As older renters increase, larger multi-unit buildings with elevators will fit the needs of this group but will the price points will need to be at a level that those can afford with the higher maintenance expenses associated with upkeep of these buildings and projects.


Real estate demand has traditionally been driven by the mantra, “location, location, location” but for America’s aging population the future of housing may defined more by “money, money, money”.  Ok, it’s not as catchy but you get the point.