As the 65-and-up population surges over the next 20 years thanks to health innovations, medical progress, and constantly lengthening American lifespans, one thing that is not progressing is the availability of senior housing. According to a recent report published by the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies (JCHS), fewer than 1 in every 25 housing units in the country currently feature the “universal design” elements necessary for seniors and older adults to comfortably inhabit them. These elements include zero-step entrances, single-floor living, and extra-wide hallways and doors that can accommodate wheelchairs and even therapeutic cots and beds.

Far more distressing than the need for current housing to be renovated, however, is the growing portion of the senior population that will not be able to afford to live in housing that meets their needs in the coming years. The JCHS warned by 2035, more than 6 million low-income renters will be spending about a third of their income on housing, a troubling prospect for a retiring generation on a fixed and limited income. Lukas Krause, CEO of Real Property Management, called the report a “scary forecast” and noted the numbers indicate “the senior sector will be one of the hardest-hit for affordability.” He recommended builders, developers, and even investors begin now “contemplating layout and design to accommodate the older population.”

At present, not even multifamily housing offers the kind of volume of housing units that will be necessary to accommodate the aging senior population. Krause said retrofitting lower floors of multifamily units will help landlords and property managers get ahead of the curve when it comes to attracting senior residents. “Economic factors will change,” he said, noting that as they do, “It will be more attractive to build more versatile homes.” Aging in place will also likely become more of a factor in buying decisions as younger homeowners with aging parents think ahead to their own futures. Krause also suggested in-law suites and homes with multiple master suites are likely to become more common as older relatives move in with younger family members.

At present, most landlords and property owners are not retrofitting their properties as it has not yet become economically attractive to do so. Furthermore, in some areas of the country building codes actually create barriers for property owners who want to create affordable senior housing because it is difficult to get the necessary permits to make the appropriate changes to existing properties. In the future, tax subsidies and other forms of government incentives will likely help landlords make these renovations and incentivize developers to build multifamily housing with more senior-accessible units in place. Homeowners who wish to age in place (and the investors who sell to them) should seek properties with bathrooms that are secure and have railings and low- or no-step showers and bathing options. There should be only one living level, and homes that either already have wide interior doors or can be remodeled easily to offer accessibility.

You can read more of Carole’s coverage of this and other topics at Self-Directed Investor News.

About the Author

Carole VanSickle Ellis serves as vice president of research and analysis at the Self-Directed Investor Society, helping investors “declare independence from Wall Street.” Contact her at or visit



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  • Carole VanSickle Ellis

    Carole VanSickle Ellis serves as the news editor and COO of Self-Directed Investor (SDI) Society, a membership organization dedicated to the needs of self-directed investors interested in alternative investment vehicles, including real estate. Learn more at or reach Carole directly by emailing

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