Need for Low-Cost Retiree Housing is Urgent
San Francisco is caught in the vortex of two powerful forces: a fast-growing retiree population and rising rents.
Residents over 60 are expected to make up a fourth of the city’s residents by 2030, according to this video project for The San Francisco Standard by Chris Chang, a student in the University of California, Berkeley’s graduate journalism school.
And San Francisco rents, after collapsing during the pandemic as people left the city, are on the rise again. A one-bedroom apartment is going for $3,100 per month – second only to New York City – despite a rent control policy that limits annual rent increases.
A San Francisco retiree with an unusually onerous rent burden is Shao Yan-Zhen, whom Chang interviewed for the video. The rent soaks up nearly 70 percent of her and her husband’s modest retirement monthly income. They have been on a waiting list for a federally subsidized apartment for two decades and are among the two-thirds of retirees nationwide who qualify for the assistance but can’t get it due largely to a shortage of rental housing.
San Francisco, which has made some efforts to expand its housing supply, is an extreme example of how difficult it can be to make a dent in a national crisis that is stretching many retirees almost to the breaking point.
Some 10 million retired households are paying more than a third of their income on housing, Jennifer Molinsky of Harvard’s housing center recently told the Senate banking committee. Financial experts consider housing to be affordable if the rent is less than a third of the tenant’s income.
The need for affordable options for retirees is “urgent,” Molinsky said. “Without concerted action, we are on track for even graver deficiencies.”
Chang makes the case that it’s already grave enough.
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This highlights a broader problem: the availability of affordable housing for all. Summer rentals on Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard are so high that the people who make a community run cannot afford to live there. Many seniors are “house poor,” living in houses too big for their needs and paying sky-high property taxes because if they sell, there is no smaller residence available. We must break down the restrictive codes and NIMBY attitudes that maintain this unacceptable status quo.
Or, if financially possible, get out of the high rent states and move to where there is a more reasonable living cost. These places abound but not in the Coastal cities or the NE. Why put yourself through that when it’s not necessary at all.
It would be nice if people could “get out of the high rent states and move,” but what about their ties to the communities they helped build, the places they lived all their lives and probably still have family, and a life they built over many years? Should seniors (and established families) have to leave that all behind just because their life-long homes have become “trendy” and prohibitively expensive. Affordable senior and workforce housing should be encouraged.