Rents are soaring in this country, and during the last recession, there was an unprecedented growth in renters across all demographic groups. The combination of these factors is creating a “perfect storm” of housing unaffordability. On a recent “On Point” radio broadcast, Nela Richardson, the chief economist at real estate listing site Redfin, noted that in the last 10 years over nine million new renters have been added to the market. Rising rent costs mean that approximately 25 percent of renters are paying more than 50 percent of their income on rent, and many of these individuals are seniors. According to a recent study by HUD, 1.47 million elderly households are paying more than 50 percent of their income for rent. Why is this?
Typically, seniors’ incomes have remained flat while rents have increased at 3 percent annually in the last 10 years — the fastest growth rate in over 30 years. According to an August 2013 Long-Term Living article, one in three working Americans has no retirement savings other than Social Security and 35 percent over the age of 65 rely almost entirely on Social Security alone.
In 2014, there were 46.2 million Americans over 65. The median income for individuals was $22,248 and the average income was $28,778. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Baltimore is $1,077 per month, and Baltimore is seen as an affordable city. When you do the math, $9,324 ($777 per month) is left over for the senior at median income for all other expenses. Consequently, many seniors are living in substandard housing or struggling to keep up with the maintenance of a home they own.
On top of that, the population of people aged 65 and over will double by 2030. Many of them are individuals who live in housing that they can not only no longer afford but that no longer meets their needs. And as the U.S. population ages, the overall demand for accessible safe rental housing increases.
This crisis is growing. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, “the elderly homeless population will increase by 33 percent by 2020 and more than double by 2050.” The solution is clear: There needs to be more focus on the design and maintenance of affordable senior communities. We have a social and moral obligation to provide and care for the elders in our communities. In the last 20 years, we at Marks, Thomas have had the privilege of designing over 25 affordable senior apartment buildings.
One of the most satisfying developments was at Stadium Place.
We worked with Jack Sharpe, the visionary founder of GEDCO, to master-plan the campus in Baltimore City. Starting in 2001, we then designed the six buildings which have since been constructed. Located on the site of the old Memorial Stadium, the campus addresses the social and basic shelter needs for over 370 residents. Today, there are over 500 people on the waiting list for an apartment. The 15 years of design and construction have resulted not only in independent living apartments but also in 49 skilled nursing beds in the GreenHouse at Stadium Place. This model of long-term care is based on the approach developed by Dr. Bill Thomas and implemented through assistance from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
In 2015, a market rate section of the community, Heritage Run, developed by GEDCO and Presbyterian Senior Living, opened. The integration of market rate and affordable senior housing was successfully pioneered by Presbyterian Senior Living in one of their Pennsylvania communities.
The integration of affordable senior housing into existing communities is very important. It allows seniors to remain engaged with and connected to the community. They can bring resources to their families and neighbors. One of the 12 projects we designed for Catholic Charities, Our Lady of Fatima, was built adjacent to an existing Catholic church.
Today, Our Lady of Fatima serves many elders, some of whom are members of that church community. On the tour of the apartments we designed after the residents had moved, they shared stories of the neighborhood. You need only look on Catholic Charities website to see the heartfelt thanks of a new resident. “When I saw my lovely apartment I felt so valued and cared about. I felt so blessed because I knew instinctively that the people who conceived, designed, and implemented plans for Owings Mills New Town Senior Housing understood the needs of seniors, respected seniors, cared about seniors, had great integrity, and yes…loved seniors.”
The relief of moving from what is often an inaccessible, unaffordable, and sometimes unsafe home to a secure and warm community is clearly expressed, and underscores the importance of providing local, accessible, and affordable housing options for seniors. It is a privilege to have been part of the creation of that and many other communities.
Explore our extensive portfolio of senior living projects here.