Seniors housing demographic norms are shifting, as people live longer, work longer and decide more often that staying in the community, near current family and friends, is preferable to moving, pushing many states to realize they will also have to plan for the coming wave of baby boomers’ living needs.
Communities around the country are holding special meetings to discuss a lack of preparedness for the boomers. The signs are there–a recent report by the U.S. Census Bureau shows the share of households headed by 55- to 65-year-olds has increased from 13 percent of all households in 1999 to 19 percent in 2012. The percentage of households run by people 75 years and older has increased to 10 percent in 2012. Even the smaller states are reporting increases, such as Alaska, which is low on funding but has the fastest growing senior population, accounting now for 13.6 percent of state residents.
The Sun Belt states can no longer be counted on as the expected path of seniors. Boomers appear to be shifting away from the “snow-bird” flight pattern upon retirement, according to studies such as PulteGroup Inc.’s Home Index survey. More than 60 percent of seniors today think their home in retirement will be within the same state they currently live, and almost half believe they’ll even stay in the same city, according to these studies.
Pulte Senior Vice President Deborah Meyer says this remain-in-place trend is why her firm, through its seniors housing firm Del Webb, has established more communities in four-season locations, such as Chicago, Detroit and the Northeast.
“More families are making a deliberate choice to build a better bond among the generations,” she says. “Within this group of retired, socially-oriented consumers, the choice of where to retire varies. Some consumers will choose to retire in the city where they currently live. Through our research, we have found that there is definitely a group who do not want to leave their family, friends and all the familiar surroundings.”
This finding is reinforced by other studies that show popular areas such as New York City, Washington, D.C. and the big cities in California are considered some of the worst places to retire, when considering real estate expenses, high taxes and steep health care costs. Even a prime vacation spot such as Hawaii is considered a difficult retirement locale, as the cost of living is high and travel on and off the islands to visit family is also expensive.
As the oldest boomer turns 67 years old this year, the demographics may change, but the upcoming need still looms large, in big regions and in small communities. Even considering the stay-near-home set, Pulte has continued to open up seniors communities near large cities to meet another new demographic, Meyer says. “The locations of our active adult communities have also been influenced by the trend of people continuing to work. More than 50 percent of our Del Web residents are working part-time, starting new businesses or new careers,” she says.
Currently, the big three–New York, Florida and California–still lead the country in housing residents 65 years old and older–and even they aren’t ready. A recent study funded by Enterprise Community Partners and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development showed that there’s an unmet need for affordable seniors housing in many areas of New York. In Florida, where a quarter of the state’s residents are seniors, lawmakers are petitioning the federal government to restore funding to the Supportive Housing for the Elderly program, which decreased from $650 million in 2005 to nothing in 2012.
California senior housing developers are still reeling from the state’s dissolution of the Redevelopment Agency program, which took away about $1 billion in annual affordable housing support. A recent project, the $22.5 million proposed Ramona Park Senior Apartments in Long Beach, foundered when RDA funding was cut, but has re-emerged with tax credit assistance.
The 61-unit affordable complex is being developed by Palm Communities, which has partnered with non-profit Western Community Housing on the project. The development will serve citizens aged 55 and older with incomes up to 60 percent of the area’s median income. Construction is scheduled to be complete in April 2014.
“Ramona has been financed at a time when funding for affordable housing has greatly diminished,” says Dan Horn, CEO of Palm. “We are very pleased to see the project come to fruition and look forward to providing many local seniors in need with a safe and peaceful place to call home.”