Where Boomers Decide To Live Will Put Squeeze On Entire Vermont Housing System

Nov 14, 2017

As the baby boomers head into retirement the decisions they make about where they want to live will have ripple effects throughout the state's housing market.

In 2015, the Vermont Department of Housing And Community Development did a housing needs assessment, which found there will be a high demand for senior housing facilities as Vermonters age.

The 2015 report estimates that 1,165 households will not be able to find adequate senior care facilities by the year 2020. The authors recommended that Vermont expand its supply of senior housing.

Affordable Senior Housing

Jan Belville started looking at her retirement savings, and considering her options, a few years before her youngest child was set to graduate from high school.

"I don't want to be a burden to my children," she says. "I don't know how other baby boomers feel but I don't want for my kids to have the pressure of financially taking care of me, physically taking care of me. You know, the money's going to dwindle so quickly, and you think, what'll I do then?"

Belville knew the large family house in Brandon would be too much to take care of and so she got on a waiting list for senior affordable housing.

"I don't know how other baby boomers feel but I don't want for my kids to have the pressure of financially taking care of me." — Jan Belville

It took almost five years before she was able to find an apartment. Belville says the transition has mostly worked out, but it's not exactly what she thought life would be like at 67.

"This was never what I wanted," Belville says. "But this is the way life turned out for me . I did the best I could, raising three kids alone. And I'm in subsidized housing and that's the reality."

Urban Options

But not every every baby boomer will need, or want, to move into a senior apartment. Vermont Housing Finance Agency deputy director Maura Collins says the boomers will likely address their housing needs in surprising ways.

"Every structure that the baby boomers come up against they seem to change, whether it be music or food or housing or anything," Collins says. "And so it's not surprising that they are doing retirement differently as well."

Collins says there's been a steep uptick in seniors who choose to live downtown, near restaurants and art happenings.

"Every structure that the baby boomers come up against they seem to change ... And so it's not surprising that they are doing retirement differently as well." - Maura Collins, VHFA deputy director

And so she says the boomers will put a squeeze on Vermont's already tight housing market.

"Our older population is really competing with millennials for what we would traditionally think of a starter home," says Collins. "So having two competing populations for that one unit, in a state with a housing crunch is not good news. And we are very concerned about that."

Laura Wilson is the director of operations at Cathedral Square, a nonprofit organization that builds senior housing around Burlington.

And she says the expected increase in retiring baby boomers who will be looking to change their housing comes at a time when all housing developments are becoming more complicated  and expensive.

"We're in a situation now where funding is super competitive," Wilson says. "It's getting harder and harder, and resources are scarce. You know you talk to other organizations, whether they're housing organizations or just social mission. You know, we're all after the same pot of funds."

Mobile Homes

A University of Vermont study found that about one-third of the mobile homes in Vermont had at least one retired senior living there.

And mobile home parks are increasingly viewed as an important part of the state's strategy for supporting affordable housing.

Robert Kennett, 76, lives in a mobile home park in Hinesburg.

Robert Kennett lives in the Sunset Lake Villa mobile home park in Hinesburg. About one-third of the mobile homes in the state have a senior living in it.
Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR

"I think it's important to keep the idea of affordable housing for people in our age group," says Kennett. "And my wife and I are in the same boat as a lot of other seniors. This whole story of, 'do I pay my rent or pay for my medicine?' Those are facts. Those are facts that we have to deal with all of the time. Without this, we wouldn't make it."

In-Home Care

Vermont has been a national leader in supporting seniors at home, and in helping them age in place. A trend that is sure to continue as the boomers move into retirement.

Beth Stern, the director of the Central Vermont Council on Aging, says boomers might need more outside help than the previous generation if they don't have their own local support systems.

"I think the challenge for baby boomers potentially will be that we're a much more mobile society now, and the children of baby boomers are living elsewhere," Stern says. "You may not have generations and family support that you might have had originally when people tended to stay more local. And so care-giving is going to be a huge issue for baby boomers."

And she says the increase in the number of seniors who will be needing care at home comes at a time when there are less young people throughout the state to fill those jobs.

"You may not have generations and family support that you might have had originally when people tended to stay more local. And so care-giving is going to be a huge issue for baby boomers." — Beth Stern, Central Vermont Council on Aging

"Because of our population dropping in the younger ages, we are not going to have the caregivers to work in that field either in nursing homes or residential care homes or in home based care," says Stern. "So that is something that I am concerned about for baby boomers."

Vermont's been trying to address its housing crisis even before the boomers began moving into retirement.

And as that bubble grows over the next few decade, the decisions that boomers make about where they want to live will ripple throughout Vermont's housing community.
 

Aging Well is an ongoing special series from VPR exploring how the baby boom generation is viewing retirement and changing the future makeup of Vermont.