Atlantic Cities

The Biggest X-Factor in the Housing Market? Where Baby Boomers Will Choose to Retire

The Biggest X-Factor in the Housing Market? Where Baby Boomers Will Choose to Retire
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Happy 65th to the estimated 10,000 Baby Boomers who passed the threshold into senior citizen status today. And an early congrats to the 10,000 more who will follow tomorrow. You represent a segment of the population driving a series of radical changes in the way the U.S. looks and works.

That trend of 10,000 freshly minted 65-year-olds a day is expected to continue into 2020, when an estimated one-fifth of the U.S. population will be 65 or over. Many of the resulting changes from this wave of oldness will play out in the housing market, according to a recent presentation from two urban planning experts at the American Planning Association's national conference. One of the key considerations for planners and cities making room for these growing senior populations is that about one-fifth of people over 65 won't be able to drive.

"We're having to plan communities that provide more affordable housing options for that generation so that they're closer to services and less dependent on having to drive for every errand and every service," says William Anderson, a vice president at international architecture and planning firm AECOM and former planning director for the City of San Diego.

America's aging population is already placing different demands on the housing market and affecting what developers will likely be focused on providing, according to Terry Holzheimer, director of economic development in Arlington County, Virginia. He's expecting to see more infill housing, more housing in areas that are walkable, and more pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods with high levels of services and amenities.

And in the wake of the economic recession, previous assumptions about what retirees want have been shaken up. In the early and mid-2000s it was easy for some real estate developers to assume that the soon-to-retire class would be snatching up second homes and golf course estates. Not anymore.

"It's been kind of a cold shower the last few years for many people," says Anderson.

This less certain future has raised a number of questions, especially whether retirees will choose to stay in place or to move to the sort of walkable neighborhoods Holzheimer says are growing. Either option will have widespread repercussions in the way housing and communities grow and evolve.

And it's not just the aging population that will have an impact on how future community planning and housing trends play out. Holzheimer and Anderson point to the children of those Baby Boomers, the so-called Generation Y or Millennials, and how their transition (or not) from renting to buying will affect the type and location of housing that will be built.

Holzheimer and Anderson also expect to see continued changes in the way office space is built and occupied as technology cuts down the need for every person to be in the office every day, or ever. Workspace demand per worker is on the downturn, Holzheimer notes.

But with such a large percentage of the population now reaching retirement age, the future of the American economy will be highly dependent on the young people of today who are just entering the workforce, or who will be soon.

"The challenge of educating this population that's going to be supporting an ever-growing retired population is really, really important," says Holzheimer.

It's still too early to know exactly where retirees will move, if they move at all, but both Anderson and Holzheimer agree that this aging population will have major impacts on the economy and the development of communities. Cities and developers should start planning now — 10,000 retiring Baby Boomers a day are on their way.

Top image: Mary Rice / Shutterstock.com

Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for The Atlantic Cities. He lives in Los Angeles. All posts »

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