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The retirement of baby boomer generation in the coming two decades will impose significant demographic shifts in the state of Minnesota, with the elderly population of 65 years and more increasing from 12 to 20 percent of the total state’s population. The existing traditional housing does not meet the demand and preferences of many young seniors and retiring baby boomers (Golant, 2008). Many older adults are currently in procession of single-family housing units and wish to retain these houses as they age. However, aging increases limitations in terms of health and activity, yet the existing housing stock lacks the facilities required for the aging population to remain within their homes and communities. There are few housing units designed to be accessible, but an approximated sixty percent of these housing units will accommodate at least one individual with a disability in the course of its lifetime (Kane & Chan, 2007). Currently, at least 300,000 older Minnesotans have the need for housing repair and modifications for them to stay at their homes (State Demographic Center, 2012). Concurrently, the state is in search of community-based options to address senior housing and care with the goal of controlling the increasing long-term healthcare costs. This state of affairs presents an opportunity for the development of a new model for housing the aging baby boomers, a housing model that meets the desires of baby boomers to stay in the communities and social networks of their choice. In addition, the new housing model should help the State to come up with a cost effective housing system for baby boomers. This paper takes into account the housing situation for baby boomers in the coming future, when they retire and will be in need of housing services.

Minnesota’s Baby Boomers Population

In 2010, Minnesota had approximately 680,000 seniors and 1,470,000 baby boomers, representing 12 % of the state’s population (State Demographic Center, 2012). Estimations speculate that, by 2030, the senior population in Minnesota will be approximately 1.3 million, which is approximately 20 percent of the state’s population. Nevertheless, the distribution of the population of baby boomers across the state is not even. Approximately 47% of the state’s population resides outside the seven-county Twin cities metropolitan areas, at least 55% of senior citizens and 58% of baby boomers reside on the non-metropolitan areas of Minnesota (State Demographic Center, 2012). Projections estimate that the current baby boomers, who will be the seniors of 2030, comprise of about 26-31% of suburban and exurban populations.

In the coming 20 years, the total population for Minnesota is expected to increase by approximately 16% with the senior population doubling. With the current large population size of the baby boomer cohort and reducing birth rates across Minnesota, the State Demographic Center estimates that the growth rate of the older-adult cohort is anticipated to be higher than the overall population growth in the entire state. Central Minnesota is anticipated to experience the most explosive population growth rate, whereas regions such as Twin Cities area will experience a moderate population growth rate with the senior cohort doubling in size (State Demographic Center, 2012). Figure 1 shows the estimated projections for baby boomers population in various regions of Minnesota.

 It is evident that, in most counties, seniors comprise of 15-25% of total state population. In addition, it is only 15 counties that have the seniors taking up more than 30 % of the population (State Demographic Center, 2012). Counties, located in slow-growth areas having lower percentages of senior citizens, are mostly home to learning institutions such as colleges and universities. Projections point out that it is only three counties that will have the senior population comprising of 15% of the population. The growth rate for the senior population during the period 2010-2030 will vary across various regions. Counties that are currently having older populations will continue aging, notable with an increase in older age cohorts of 75-85 and more than 85 years. Counties that are currently having lower fractions of senior citizens are estimated to witness a dramatic aging drift. The senior population is estimated to double in eighteen counties located within southeastern and central Minnesota. For instance, Scott County will experience an increase of 25% (State Demographic Center, 2012).

Overall, the variation in growth rates and fractions of senior citizens in different counties imply that communities are currently experiencing the aging of population, a trend that is likely to be observed in future. The elderly dependency ratio is an important indicator that denotes the level of financial aid for working adults in the Central Minnesota. For instance, the statewide dependency ratio for 2008 was 18.4; however, measures of individual counties range from 9.9 to 51.8. Counties, located within Twin Cities, southeastern and central Minnesota, have dependency ratios that are less than 20, whereas western Minnesota counties have dependency ratios that are more than 35. Projections indicate that the statewide elderly dependency ratio will be 34.0, with county dependency ratios, ranging between 19.9 and 76.4 (State Demographic Center, 2012).

Non-metropolitan population in Minnesota will continue to age more than the total population; this is because retirees are increasingly relocating to non-metropolitan counties and because the older population comprise of a large fraction of the population in these counties. Additionally, patterns of migration change in accordance with age, implying that aging baby boomers are less expected to migrate than the younger cohorts do. In the context of metropolitan areas, a 2005 population survey in Twin Cities pointed out that only 2% of all empty-nest retiring suburban homeowners are anticipated to migrate to an urban area (State Demographic Center, 2012).

Policy Implications, Associated with Minnesota’s Baby Boomers Population

The present size of baby boomer population implies that they will take over the housing market in Minnesota for the coming 20-35 years. As a result, builders, remodelers and public officials should implement appropriate strategies, aimed at seeking multi-purpose and efficient housing that meets the requirements of the aging population, while at the same time creating an attractive and adaptive housing stock for the future population of the state (Strathers, 2005). Some of the potential housing features than can be incorporated include safe and linked sidewalks; entrances that can support the use of strollers and wheel chairs; and doors having lever handles that are easily-maneuverable. Such features are vital because they will enhance the life of the aging population and their associated health and physical limitations (Kane & Chan, 2007).

As indicated earlier, various regions in Minnesota are and will persist to face this demographic transition in various ways. In some regions, the coming twenty years will be a leap forward towards an older demographic; however, in other communities, it will be the second phase of an endurance race. Therefore, effective policy response must acknowledge the fact that assistance requests are likely to vary regionally. As a result, the policy responses must be flexible to accommodate the numerous types and levels of responses being deployed throughout Minnesota (Strathers, 2005).

Baby Boomers Homes

Addressing the housing requirements of an aging population poses the need to have an understanding of the older cohort beyond its numeric prevalence across Minnesota. In order to address the estimated requirements and demands in a manner that is cost-effective, it is essential to examine the existing housing types, satisfaction levels, and future preferences of the current baby boomers population.

Housing Types

At any particular time, the number of older adults staying in nursing homes and assisted living facilities is relatively small. A 2009 survey regarding the need for long-term care reported that seniors of 65 years in the present day would require an average of 3 years long-term care. In 2009, there was about 27,500 senior Minnesotans, residing in 281 nursing facilities; this fraction represents 4% of senior citizens in Minnesota (State Demographic Center, 2012). Assisted living offers housing services for approximately 57,261 senior Minnesotans. The remaining 88% of senior citizens stay in somewhat traditional housing units. A surprising trend is that seniors and baby boomers own single-family detached housing units. At present, baby boomers have ownership rates that are more than the state rate of 75%. Ownership of houses reduces with the aging of baby boomers since they embark on selling their houses. It is estimated that about 20% of senior citizens are currently under mortgages (Smith & Rayer, 2008).

Senior Minnesotans who reside in rentals stay in numerous types of housing, with 33% residing in low-density rentals such as townhomes and triplexes, another 33% reside in larger multifamily houses, and the remaining residing in age-restricted multifamily housing. There is a notable variation in terms of age and conditions of housing stock across the state, with central Minnesota having a median age of housing stock of about 50-60 years. Minnesota has witnessed an improvement in the conditions of rural housing in the last century.

Satisfaction with the Existing Housing

A 2009 survey affirmed that the type of housing does not have a significant influence on the satisfaction levels. Currently, adults of 55 years and above are satisfied with the existing housing; the survey reported a satisfaction level of 8.7 out of 10 (State Demographic Center, 2012). In addition, satisfaction levels increase with age. There is a positive correlation of housing satisfaction with proximity to social and civic services, wellbeing and monetary advantages to the residents. Surveys in US in various communities and house settings indicated that both ownership and renting imposed positive impacts on individual wellbeing. High levels of satisfaction are also prevalent in cases, where there is the need for assistance regarding home maintenance. About 40% of senior Minnesotans report that they need some sort of assistance in order to continue staying in their homes. The most prevalent forms of assistance in Central Minnesota include maintenance and repair (23.8%), feature accessibility (6.9%), and structural upkeep (18.9%). Female seniors living alone or having low income-levels are more likely to report the need for assistance to continue staying in their houses. The need to modify housing units increases with age, with modifications needed twice at the age of 75 years and above than 50-59 years (State Demographic Center, 2012).

Future Housing Preferences of Baby Boomers

The Minnesota Board on Aging established that 80% of senior citizens and baby boomers have no plans of moving because of the high levels of satisfaction. Relocation of baby boomers can be traumatic. Aging baby boomers may voluntary migrate to Care Retirement Communities for purposes of maintaining autonomy and increasing social integration, as they grow older; however, transitions with Care Retirements Communities often point out administrative decisions, and may lead to diminished social integration and less satisfaction (Pynoos, 2008). The change from an autonomous to assisted living or under nursing care usually imposes significant trauma since autonomous living indicates retaining control. Concerning this view, about 62% of aging baby boomers in central Minnesota have pointed out their concerns regarding living in a nursing home at a later age. Furthermore, a study by a senior housing provider in Minnesota reported that 89% of baby boomers in Minnesota want to live in their home despite the cases of debilitating illness, 3% preferred active adult communities, and 1% preferred assisted living, while none opted for nursing homes. Approximately 65% preferred for an integration of both family and professional care administered within their homes. In cases, where baby boomers consider relocation, the reasons for relocation include push and pull factors, with push factors being prevalent. The pull factors for relocation include closeness to church, shopping and grown children. The push factors for relocation include the need to cut housing costs and maintenance. Studies have also indicated a preference for low-density neighborhoods and communities in the case of suburban areas and small towns. A random survey of baby boomers in Minnesota indicated that 52% preferred rural locations, 37% preferred suburban neighborhoods, and 10% preferred urban neighborhoods (Pynoos, 2008).

Policy Implications Associated With Aging Baby Boomers’ Houses

A significant number of baby boomers want to stay in their current single-family homes and communities. In addition, they prefer that the family, friends and professionals offer the services required in their homes. As a result, meeting the market demand for baby boomers’ housing needs a solution that focuses on addressing single-family homes; this implies that concentrated senior housing is a limited part of the solution to meet the housing needs by baby boomers in central Minnesota (Kane & Chan, 2007).

In addition, aiding aging baby boomers retain their autonomy requires the coordination between housing and support services. There is a direct connection between the wellbeing of baby boomers with their ability to remain autonomous. When the housing solution places the need for the provision of ongoing services, planning for the services must be implemented in combination with residence modification activities. Furthermore, the identification and prioritization of retirement communities may play an integral role in increasing efficiencies in services delivery, when implemented together with housing plans (Kane & Chan, 2007).

Meeting the Housing Needs of Baby Boomers in Central Minnesota

When baby boomers age, there is the likelihood that they will face mobility and health limitations. Concurrently, the existing baby boomers in Minnesota mostly own and prefer to remain in their homes that have not been designed to cater for people with disabilities. This state of affairs points out the need for modifying existing housing units, and the development of new units that address the limitations posed by aging.

Environmental factors such as neighborhood and home design establish the threshold in the case of need for assistance and when aging and health limitations transform to disabilities. For instance, a person with difficulties in getting in and out a bathtub is viewed as disabled; on the other hand, the same individual is not considered disabled, when a grab-bar can enable the person to undertake the task devoid of any other assistance. Medicare Beneficiary Survey reported that 22% of older adults of 65+ years have walking difficulties and could benefit significantly from housing units that incorporate zero-step entrances in their design (Smith & Rayer, 2008). The following figure shows the difficulties in undertaking selected activities among aging baby boomers.

  From the above figure, it is evident that aging of baby boomers result in activity limitations and increase the need for assistance. As a result, areas in central Minnesota having larger fractions of older cohorts will have higher cases of disability, which will pose the need for more home modifications than regions, dominated by younger populations. For instance, by 2030, 24% of the population in Headwaters and West Central regions of Minnesota will comprise of seniors, who are the current baby boomers. However, seniors of 85+ years will comprise of 5.7% of West Central’s population, and only 2.8% in Headwaters, implying that West Central Minnesota will require more housing modifications than Headwaters (Golant, 2008).

 Reasonably, priced housing with good initial design or modifications increase the time length for safe and independent living among Minnesotans. Modifications in housing designs can help in preventing a disability from taking place or even slow the disablement process. Rental modifications are associated with living alone, aging, health conditions, affordability and the potential benefits associated with modifications. The significant challenge is that most existing housing units do not take into account the future needs of homeowners because of aging. In order to overcome this challenge and potential barriers to home modifications, a universal design may offer a framework for construction and modification that addresses the needs of the aging population without placing prominence on health limitations and disabilities (Golant, 2008). The main objective of using universal design is to achieve general utility and market appeal because it extends beyond the average adult user model associated with conventional design. Some of the core elements, associated with universal design, include zero-step entrance, positioning the bath and bedroom on the main level, and using broad blocks around toilets, bathtubs and shower to facilitate future addition of grab-bars. Other elements of universal design include the use of broad doorways, multiple countertop heights, curbless showers having handheld adjustable showerheads, and lever faucets. Despite the fact that modifications can be costly, numerous assessments have reported that the costs are low if modifications are implemented during the construction of new units. In order to achieve the goals of universal design, it is vital to educate and sensitize homebuilders and remodelers regarding the flexible designs. Bringing together home modification founders and specialists could help in establishing the expertise and controlling costs in the building industry. Finally, marketing the universal design will require the use of new language and new market strategies. Aspects like convenience, enablement, easy and comfortable living can convince baby boomers to embrace the idea (Kane & Chan, 2007).

Housing Market in Central Minnesota

Despite the fact that multi-rental family units may not be the fundamental solution to housing the senior population in the coming years, there is the likelihood that it will be a core element of central Minnesota housing plan for addressing the housing requirements of the senior population. Since about 50% of low-income seniors use rental units, upcoming construction and modification projects of rental units must take into consideration the high disability levels among low-income populations.

Conclusion

Baby boomers in central Minnesota are increasing the demand for housing in the state. It is imperative for the proposed housing plan to take into consideration the health and activity limitations, associated with aging, and cost factors in order to develop reasonably priced housing for baby boomers in central Minnesota. Vital design elements must be consistent with the need to build housing units to accommodate all types of households including baby boomers, families having children and disabled persons, and ensure that they live with ease within their communities.

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