It is a familiar and relatable scenario for many seniors in this country: monthly housing costs must be juggled with utility bills, grocery purchases, and unforeseen medical expenses.
If you are fortunate enough to be retired, you might be living on income from investments into a 401k plan, social security checks, pensions, and annuities. But with inflation and interest rates at an all-time high this year—and retirement often failing to provide an adequate safety net—there is one undeniable certainty, and it is this:
You are not alone.
In a post-pandemic world, it is easy to feel like you are. So many of us are accustomed to the distinctly American mentality of picking yourself up by the bootstraps and solving financial challenges singlehandedly. But by thinking in a new way, we can take advantage of critical senior housing resources that can alleviate our financial burden; resources that are available and untapped.
Let’s examine the hurdles around affordable housing—and then look at ways you can regain your financial foothold.
Housing Pain Points
Low Inventory of Affordable Housing
“There is enormous, unmet need for affordable rental housing for older adults” according to Jennifer Molinksky, a project director at Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies.
One study shows that more than 10 million households headed by seniors are paying more than a third—and as much as half—of their fixed income on housing alone and that these “affordability challenges are disproportionately felt by older people of color…particularly for older Black and Hispanic households.” When too much money is being spent on housing, not enough is being spent on food and medical care, which is challenging to those living with chronic health conditions.
You are experiencing it already: a trip to the gas pump, grocery store, or family doctor brings immediate sticker shock. Rent is no exception.
Over the course of 2021, the national median rent increased by a record-breaking 17.6%–its fastest surge in 40 years. Retirees and those intending to retire are the population group most threatened by inflation. Making housing payments for seniors becomes a double-layered hurdle when everything else comes with a high price tag.
Rising Interest Rates
The federal reserve has been raising interest rates to stem inflation.
When you borrow money, interest rises on things tied to the Federal key rate such as auto loans, credit cards, and adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs).
According to mortgage giant Freddie Mac, thirty-year fixed rate mortgages jumped from 3.11% to 5.23% at the end of 2021. The federal hike could bring this north of 6%. This is troubling math for those living on a fixed income. Housing cost hikes eat into budgeting for essential everyday expenditures like groceries and gas.
The Stock Market
In 2022, the Center for Retirement Research found that seniors overestimate the risk of stock market fluctuations.
When considering other areas that impact their savings (like unforeseen medical expenses, social security cuts, or the death of a spouse), seniors ranked “Market Volatility” as their greatest risk.
While the actual greatest risk in retirement turned out to be not saving enough money, stock market fluctuations do still have an impact. Stocks and bonds are down significantly in 2022. As a result, seniors—even those with conservative portfolios—are taking a hit on supplemental investment income.
What Can I Do Right Now?
You might be managing expenses on your own. Or you might be someone managing household budgets for older adults. In either situation, it is easy to become overwhelmed and disillusioned in the face of piling debts. But the good news is that there are resources available to you.
Here are a few suggestions of what you can do right now if you are feeling the crunch:
- Audit your daily budget. Where are you able to eliminate extras? Meal planning and bulk preparation could save money at the grocery store. Using public transportation more often can alleviate the high price of gas. Libraries (now in the digital age) have extensive book and film collections that can substitute streaming services. Implementing small lifestyle changes can add up to substantial savings across time; savings that will make a difference when your housing payment is due.
- Contact your local housing authority. It is worth doing some research to determine if you qualify for public housing or a housing voucher. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has a useful search tool for finding senior apartments and low-income apartments and proprietors who will accept Section 8 vouchers.
- Explore benefits. There are currently thousands of public and private programs with untapped funding that help low-income seniors cover their utilities, medical expenses, groceries, and more. Check out NCOA’s BenefitsCheckup. It is completely confidential, and you can enter your zip code to see what resources are available in your neighborhood.
- Consider home sharing. If your home boasts spare bedrooms, a separate unit, or even just a furnished basement with its own private entrance, consider renting it out to someone. The additional income can alleviate financial pressures and companies such as Senior Homeshares and Silvernest can assist with screening candidates and drafting a lease. (And on the other side of the coin, these websites can also help you if you are seeking a roommate to share space with.)
- Explore the option of a reverse mortgage. Available to homeowners ages 62 and older, a reverse mortgage allows you to borrow against your home’s equity without making monthly mortgage payments. Borrowers can opt for a lump sum, a line of credit, or structured monthly payments. This option is not for everyone so if you are considering a reverse mortgage, it is advisable to seek a no-cost financial assessment to better understand payout options, homeowner costs, tax implications, and other benefits and drawbacks.
You Are Not Alone
If you are juggling housing expenses, making housing payments for seniors, or simply wanting to chat with someone about your housing options, one valuable resource to explore is The HOPE Hotline: 1-888-995-HOPE (4673).
Professional, attentive counselors will connect with you, assess your current situation, explain your available options, and create a customized action plan.
Counseling is free, and you will also receive referrals to local, statewide, and national resources.