Housing for an Aging Population

Sewin Chan and Ingrid Gould Ellen
Housing Policy Debate, 27:2 (2017), pp. 167-192.

We use the American Housing Survey to examine the distribution and occupancy of homes that have, or could be modified to have, accessibility features that allow seniors to successfully remain in the community as they age. Despite the aging population and the growing need for accessible housing, the U.S. housing stock is woefully inadequate: fewer than 4% of housing units could be considered livable by people with moderate mobility difficulties, and a miniscule fraction are wheelchair accessible. Recent construction is no more likely to be accessible than homes built in the mid-1990s, suggesting that the housing market is not responding to the aging demographic profile. Only a small fraction of seniors, even among those with mobility difficulties, and even among recent movers, live in suitable homes. Modifications that potentially improve accessibility are more likely undertaken by households with a senior, but only once that senior develops mobility difficulties.