2015 White House Conference on Aging and Retirement Security

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The 2015 White House Conference on Aging only happens once every ten years. It is an opportunity to go big and bold, to set the table for needed architectural change in how we address the looming retirement security crisis.

Strengthening Social Security and mobilizing savings is a solid start, but it will take much more to avert the Silver Tsunami that is upon us.

A key discussion point missing in the WHCoA Retirement Security brief is any mention of affordable housing.

If you are one of the millions of older Americans depending on Social Security as your main or sole source of income you are likely spending 40-90 percent of it on housing costs.

This is a crushing burden. There is no retirement security unless we can get a handle on this housing issue.

The economics of aging is forcing millions to downsize and rethink their consumption choices. Our current way of living with everyone isolated in private residences, with all their stuff, fending for themselves is neither affordable nor sustainable. And, it is especially hard on older adults on modest fixed incomes with no extended family to pitch in.

In the current environment, it seems the best we can hope for is to hold the line on not cutting SS benefits. What this means is that millions of older Americans living on government benefits will likely see no increase in their income and are facing a future of extreme belt tightening and making do with less.

We need to be preparing for that world.

Co-housing (in its various forms) offers some promise with its built in support networks, use of the latest innovations in green design and construction and commitment to simple low resource living. And co-housing advocates and developers are improving on the traditional model, adding more affordable units, figuring out how to better incorporate the needs of seniors, opening up to renters, becoming more intentional about inclusion, and exploring how to deploy the skills and talent of co-housing residents in income generating opportunities in the society at large.

So, in addition to Social Security, innovative housing solutions for older adults (especially mutually helpful living models) should be on the agenda and part of the dialogue at the WHCoA.

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