Skip to main content

"Housing's Back" or is it? Understanding Measures of Housing Affordability

According to the National Association of Realtors' Housing Affordability Index, 2012 was a record year for housing affordability.  The release of their results led to articles with titles such as "Housing Today Is More Affordable Than At Any Time In History" on an investment blog and "2012 a banner year for housing affordability, industry group says" in a major national newspaper. I've also seen several TV reports that covered how affordable housing has become. If that's the case, then how could we release a paper titled "Loss of Housing Affordability Threatens Older Middle Class Adults" as part of AARP's Middle Class Security Project?

I'm not going to focus on all of the details, but yes there are data differences: our paper focused on the 50+ middle class only, looked at a different time frame, and used different datasets than the NAR study.  More important than all of that is what we meant by "affordability."  When I investigate housing affordability, I want to know whether people can afford to stay in their homes on an ongoing basis. NAR is focused on home sales, and their index focuses on the purchase of a home. 

Our look at housing affordability focused on homeowners (and renters) who are already in their homes and may have trouble keeping those homes. These families may be dealing with stagnant incomes, increasing taxes and fees, along with higher utility bills and other costs of housing.  Affordability is not a one-time question about purchasing a home - it is an ongoing concern, each month, for a large number of families. If a healthcare emergency or another unexpected and costly event hits these families, they are increasingly in danger of not being able to pay next month’s mortgage or rent.  Simply put, many older adults (and for that matter, younger adults) are facing more unaffordable circumstances today than they were at the turn of the century. 

Groups such as the AARP Foundation have focused on housing because "many find themselves forced to choose between paying their mortgage or rent and buying groceries or medicine. Many may be able to purchase a home, but increasingly, they are in danger of not being able to keep it." Our latest AARP PPI Study shows that affordability is still a concern, despite the upbeat news from those on the production and sales side.

For more on the AARP Middle Class project, go to and read all of the reports at To follow tweets related to the project, search #mc50plus and follow the new AARP Public Policy Institute twitter account @AARPpolicy, and my account @DrUrbanPolicy.  But before you do all of that, share your comments below.


  1. Its a good thing that this group focus the housing issue. Its now easy to the family.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

AARP's Media Release for "What Is Livable? Community Preferences of Older Adults"

The AARP media release for one of my most recent reports, "What is Livable? Community Preferences of Older Adults": 

April 25, 2014             Media Contact: Nancy Thompson (202) 434-2506

Washington, D.C. – The vast majority of people age 50 and older plan to remain living independently in their communities, a new report from the AARP Public PolicyInstitute concludes.  The report which surveyed boomers and older adults found that both value secure neighborhoods, safety, good schools, safe streets for walking, access to transportation, parks and affordable housing as community qualities. With these resources in place, communities enhance personal independence and foster resident engagement in community civic, economic and social life, qualities that AARP has traditionally used to describe the livability of a community.  Most importantly, these resources allow re…

Efficiency and Affordability: Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)

I haven't been posting often lately, as things have been pretty hectic.   I did receive a question the other day about  topic that I haven't spoken about here:  Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), and it inspired me to write a quick post.  These are sometimes known as "accessory apartments," "mother-in-law suites" or "granny flats" - they are ways to provide more housing options in existing neighborhoods by allowing homeowners to build additional units on their lots.  ADU is a catch-all term for all of these situations - either units attached to existing homes or placed somewhere else on the property, say over a garage or a stand-alone in the backyard. 

They are part of the range of housing options that help to ensure that people of all ages, including older adults, can meet their needs.  AARP's model ordinance on ADUs was written by staff at the American Planning Association and was an attempt to find a set of regulations that would meet livabili…

The "Boom" in Golden Girls-Style Shared Housing: Where’s the Beef?

NBC, Touchstone Television and their partners should be proud– it has been 22 years since the final episode aired, yet the influence of The Golden Girlsmeans that every year reporters ask about the boom in “Golden Girls Housing.”  This form of shared housing receives a great amount of attention, but we'll miss the big picture if we look for big numbers.
For the last few years, I have looked at data from the Current Population Survey (analyzed by the AARP Public Policy Institute) to count households that are all female (or all male) with at least one non-related housemate or roommate, no spouses, and no one under 50 in the home. This is the classic “Golden Girls” formula.  
The result has become familiar: a very small portion of the population lives in a “golden” situation, around one percent.  The small numbers of people in those situations means that it’s hard to figure out whether it has become more popular.  Though the percentage appears to be holding steady, the number of golden…