In a recent report, the Joint Center for Housing Studies (JCHS) of Harvard University explains that housing inequality is becoming increasingly evident among older Americans as the number of older households climbs to unprecedented levels. In their Housing America’s Older Adults 2019,published earlier this year, JCHS found that although the number of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness has decreased over the last ten years, the number of older adults experiencing sheltered homelessness is on the rise. This is in part due to the confluence of an insufficient housing stock, increasing rents and stagnated wages. Incomes for the lowest-income older adults have not kept up with the inflation of rent, leaving a growing number of older adult renters at risk for homelessness as they struggle to cover their housing costs (Figure 1).

From 2001 to 2017, the median monthly incomes of renters age 50 and over increased 6.6 percent, up from $2,310 to $2,460. However, median rents over this period rose 14 percent from $790 to $900. The increase in rents relative to incomes has pushed up the number and share of cost-burdened older adult renters spending at least 30 percent of income on housing costs. In 2001, 4.5 million renters age 50 and older were cost burdened, amounting to 45 percent of all older adult renters. That number rose to a new high of 8.0 million in 2017 (50 percent).

cost burdened older adults graph

Understanding and devising strategies to mitigate this inequity is crucial because older adult renters are a large and growing group. According to JCHS’s 2018 Household Projections, the number of renter households headed by someone age 50 and over is expected to grow from 16.0 million in 2018 (35 percent of all renters) to 21.2 million in 2038 (40 percent).


If you or someone you know are interested in exploring creative solutions to better meet the housing needs of older Rhode Islanders please consider joining our Housing Work Group lead by Brenda Clement of HousingWorks RI.