Seniors Projected To Dictate Future Of Housing Market, Not Millennials


New projections from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies suggest the housing market won’t be dictated by millennials, but seniors. Over the course of the next 20 years, Americans over the age of 80 will double in population size from 6 million to a historically high 12 million.

Up to 83% of potential home buyers are looking to buy a single-family home. But by 2035, Curbed suggests one out of every three of those potential home buyers will be over the age of 65. This could mean a shift in modern housing design.

One particular shift in design is shown in the new community space of Morningside Retirement and Health Services. The community space is for the older residents of the Morningside Gardens apartments and was designed by Wagner Interior Design and Consulting and Hollwich Kushner Architects.

For the interior of the home, there are typically three different types of lighting: accent lighting, task lighting, and ambient lighting. The Morningside community center uses ambient lighting to brighten the room’s interior substantially. It also uses floor-to-ceiling wood paneling and brightly colored curtains to create an airy and friendly aesthetic, not unlike the common room of a college dorm.

However, what separates the community center from a usual common room is that it’s designed for the older adult. The floors are made with cushioned, non-slip rubber and the walls are saddled with a sleek, wraparound handrail.

Matthias Hollwich, the architect of the million-dollar project, says the design of the community center caters to the real challenges for aging communities: social engagement and connection.

“This Morningside Heights project shows how the future of aging-in-place should really happen: more social and more integrated,” Hollwich said.

Just last year, Hollwich wrote a book titled New Aging regarding how Americans can plan to take care of senior citizens as they increase in population and how we can design better housing.

“Half of nursing home residents are there because of social deficits and the loss of their social net,” said Hollwich. “Not because of health issues; we need to find ways to help them connect.”

The new design and architecture for the elderly require a shift in how we support seniors, both in terms of service and financial aid. However, it’s also necessary to include adaptive and thoughtful design into the new architecture.

Jennifer Molinsky, a senior research assistant at Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, reports that one of the key challenges of assisting the elderly is helping them continue to live in their own houses. Once a senior leaves their home, they lose their sense of community. And because humans are social creatures that separation from the community can result in future health difficulties.

Fortunately, many institutions across the U.S. have already begun making changes to their new senior living spaces. An ordinance was recently signed in Pima County, Arizona mandating each new home design must have a zero-step entrance.

Housing Opportunities and Maintenance for the Elderly (H.O.M.E.), a Chicago nonprofit organization, has also been developed to help seniors who live independently connect easily with repairmen and working professionals to help fix problems around the house.
For instance, a house’s gutters should be cleaned twice a year. Yet a senior wouldn’t be able to reach the gutters without professional help.

“We’re all aware of the almost institutional look of hospital-like retirement homes that house our grandparents … when we were young,” says architect McCall Wood. “The industry is interested in new ideas, and the field is ripe for us.”

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