What are the best options for the millions of single-family homes that may be left behind by Baby Boomers as they age, many of which are in suburban or exurban communities? Is it realistic to retrofit homes and neighborhoods to accommodate changing demand?
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Even though we have begun to see a shift in preferences from large lot suburban and exurban single family homes to denser housing closer in, the effect on housing occupied by Baby Boomers is likely to be muted for a decade or more in most markets.
The latest State of the Nation’s Housing report from Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies notes that homeownership remains very high for Baby Boomers, 78.5 percent for those between 55 and 65. Just 1.9 percent of owner-occupants aged 65–74 in 2011 had changed residences within the previous year, down from about 3.3 percent in 2007.
Even if mobility rates among older homeowners return to previous levels, though, the vast majority of Baby Boomers will likely age in place. Since they currently occupy more than 46 million homes, the Baby Boomers will therefore have a major impact on housing markets because of death or infirmity, typically after the age of 75.
With the oldest Baby Boomers just 55–66 and others only 45–54, the majority of this generation will continue to live independently for at least another 20 years. Furthermore, as medical innovation extends lifespans, household loss rates due to death or infirmity may fall and delay the dissolution of most Baby-Boomer households beyond 2030.
Presumably larger homes in the suburbs and exurbs will begin to accommodate more unconventional arrangements, such as multigenerational housing and renting out rooms, a movement that could be accelerated by changes in local zoning codes, but this may not require much retrofitting as long as the Baby Boomers remain in their homes.
Rather than housing retrofits, what seems to be happening is the retrofitting of commercial and retail real estate—including obsolete shopping malls and big box stores—to meet the changed patterns and preferences of suburbanites. Ellen Dunham Jones highlights some of this innovation in her TED lecture.
Bill Kelly is President and Co-Founder of Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future (SAHF).
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