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More than 765,000 older Texans are struggling to cover housing costs

Older Dallas residents sit at several tables eating in a large room.
Shelby Tauber
The Texas Tribune
Older Dallas residents eat and dance at the Jaycee-Zaragoza Recreation Center in West Dallas in Nov. 2021.

More than 765,000 older Texans are struggling to keep a roof over their heads, a problem expected to persist as baby boomers age, a report released Thursday found.

The number of Texas households headed by people 65 or older spending 30% or more of their income on housing costs in 2021 increased from the roughly 594,000 who were considered cost-burdened in 2017, according to a report from Harvard University’s Joint Center of Housing Studies.

That means more Texans over the age of 65 who are on fixed and falling incomes can’t afford necessary costs like health care as they spend more on rent and mortgage payments, housing experts and advocates for older adults say.

“You have to have a place to live,” said Jessica Lemann, senior associate state director for the American Association of Retired Persons’ Texas arm. “So the trade-off is you don't get the medical care you need, you don't have access to the food that you need, or if the cost becomes too untenable, they leave their community.”

As the U.S. faces a dire housing affordability crisis and the population of adults 65 and older grows to historic levels, the nation is ill-equipped to house older adults who sometimes require daily living assistance, the report found.

Already, ballooning housing costs have derailed the living conditions of people 65 and older. The nation added 10,000 more older adults experiencing sheltered homelessness — meaning they lived in shelters, transitional housing or elsewhere without a fixed address — between 2019 and 2021 even as the overall population of people experiencing sheltered homelessness fell during the pandemic.

Losing a home can create a cascade of problems for people who need a strong support system, said Samara Scheckler, a research associate at the Joint Center for Housing Studies.

“We see people who lose access to the home that may be the best fit for them because it's embedded in their community,” Scheckler said. “It's maybe close to services and resources that they’re used to relying on, close to their doctors, close to transportation.”

Older Texans have faced increasing headwinds as the state’s economy boomed and housing costs soared in the last decade. A quarter of households where at least one homeowner was aged 65-79 were considered cost-burdened in 2021, according to Harvard’s analysis of U.S. Census Bureau estimates. For renters, that figure was 58%.

The situation is worse in the state’s major metropolitan areas — where at least 30% of households headed by older Texans were spending too much of their income on housing costs. Nearly two-thirds of renter households in that age group in the Austin, Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth regions were considered cost-burdened, the Harvard report found. In the San Antonio-New Braunfels and El Paso areas, that figure was between 53% and 55%.

Texas has one of the biggest shortages of affordable housing in the country, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. The state needs nearly 865,000 more homes than it has for households making 50% or less of the median income in their region or lower. That includes older adults who have lower incomes.

“Seniors are over-represented among extremely low-income households and severely cost-burdened households,” said Ben Martin, research director for Texas Housers, a research and advocacy group. “That means that the harms of housing cost burdens and insufficient supply of housing are falling disproportionately on seniors in the state.”

Keeping older adults housed as that population booms will require substantial public investment and various reforms, housing and advocates for older people said.

AARP Texas has backed a package of zoning reforms in Austin that would allow up to three housing units in most single-family neighborhoods. The Austin City Council is slated to vote on that proposal next week.

Allowing denser housing will help improve housing affordability across the board, Lemann of AARP Texas said. Doing so will make it possible for caregivers like family members or home health-care workers to be able to afford homes nearby and not deal with a long commute, she said. Older Austinites may also be able to downsize to a newer, smaller home in the same neighborhood.

“That gives more options to people who maybe don't want to stay in their 2,500 or 3,000 square foot home, but they want to stay in their community,” Lemann said.

Still, other solutions are needed, Martin of Texas Housers said, including the expansion of a federal housing program, increased state funding for low-income housing and rental assistance for low-income adults age 65 and older.

Zoning reforms “alone will not likely have an immediate impact on reaching the lowest-income, older adult households that really are struggling to afford rent and services,” Martin said.

Correction: A previous version of this story included the incorrect number of older Texans who pay more than 30% of their income on housing costs. There are 765,921 cost-burdened older Texans, not 1.1 million. Harvard University’s Joint Center of Housing Studies provided the incorrect figure and said it discovered the error after this story was initially published.

From The Texas Tribune

Disclosure: AARP and AARP Texas have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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