The American home ownership dream fizzles -- is that bad? On a recent business trip in Switzerland, I was told that home ownership there isn't the be-all, end-all that it is here, that people are comfortable with renting and putting their money to other uses. It looks like a small and similar trend is happening in the US -- apparently we have begun the simultaneous housing downsizing of boomers and the creation of a rental culture. You may have noticed a new report (no, not the one that said the telehealth market would hit $6.28 billion by 2020) about housing in the US -- this Harvard report noted that home ownership dipped below 67% in 2010. In addition to excess housing inventory from foreclosures, the echo boomers (born 1986 or later) apparently are entering their peak household formation years without forming traditional ownership households. And one-third of households aged 65-74 reported moving, many to smaller households. Of course, the other two-thirds are aging in place, a euphemism these days for not being able to sell the house, the furniture, and get out to a more reasonably-sized dwelling. The report also asserts that many existing homes are being converted to rentals. Imagine if those who want to downsize either rent out a portion of their home to a student or find a compatible older adult who can defray expenses. Imagine if those lucky enough to sell their houses pocketed the cash, enabling flexibility in finding work where the work is, instead of where the house keeps a stranglehold. And perhaps they took the money they didn't spend on housing -- and spent it elsewhere in the economy.
There is an opportunity for legitimate service providers matching seniors and homes. Perhaps we are entering a period in which boomers-becoming-seniors see that housing isn't really the right dream after all, but independence and freedom are the right dreams, that money to cover missing health coverage is the right caution, or that getting a roommate is the difference between survival and assisted living. So let's just assume that folks have computers or tablets, or their relatives can help them out with this Internet thing. Maybe a non-profit agency helps seniors find a suitable roommate. I've spoken previously about RetiredBrains -- let's see more innovative ideas from realtors, home modification services, social services, and community programs that extend non-profits like the International Transportation Network into the IRN -- the International Roommate Network. Or perhaps home care companies see the opportunity to extend beyond companion care in a senior's home to helping seniors find either roommates or more suitable homes to share.
In a stalled and slumped economy, creative solutions will emerge. I was raised on the "where there's a will, there's a way" maxim (and the "penny saved" maxim, which seems a bit quaint now). And so I was pleased to see an article about time banks in Manhattan, enabling people to put in some volunteer time (this one is run by the Visiting Nurse Service of New York and has 2000 members). If you think about time banks, NORCs, intentional communities, virtual villages and co-housing, and Rent-a-Grandmother, you have to think that these are very creative times. And how useful is an Internet connection to help find these resources? And how important is a community with enough caring people to create them -- that will compensate for the fizzle of the housing market and other modern economic miseries? Maybe even the suburbs will become places that become inviting to renters, seniors, and particularly those who age into isolation.