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Older homeowners, who want to sell, have difficulties finding a new place to live

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In a hot real estate market, the high cost of retirement communities and long wait lists for subsidized housing make it hard for many seniors to cash in. Vermont Public Radio's Nina Keck reports.

NINA KECK, BYLINE: Joanne Van Deusen lives in a small, white, two-story home in Manchester, Vt. It was built in 1912 and has a cozy brick fireplace and a three-season porch.

JOANNE VAN DEUSEN: And I love my house. I don't really want to sell. But I am going to be 78 next month. And I think, how on earth am I going to manage all of this in a few years?

KECK: It's a concern that hit hard in February, when a health emergency forced her to undergo several surgeries.

VAN DEUSEN: And I have thought, if I did sell my house - this is a good time - prices are high - where would I go? There isn't any place to go. And if I get to the point where the cost is higher than I can pay, what do I do?

KECK: Dorothy Delaney is a 70-year-old nurse. She's facing a similar housing conundrum in Hinesburg, Vt.

DOROTHY DELANEY: Well, I get offers, you know? Come out to Seattle, and you can live in our basement, Mom, you know? And I'm like, I don't want to live in a basement in Seattle.

BEN DURANT: Yeah. I can say that that is happening all over the place.

KECK: Ben Durant owns Transitions Real Estate, a Vermont firm that specializes in helping seniors find the right housing. He says, even before COVID, finding small, energy-efficient, single-story homes in Vermont was tough because of the state's aging housing stock and strict development laws. And new homes that are being built, he says, tend to be two-story colonials because their smaller foundations and roofs are less costly to build compared to more sprawling one-level designs. When single-level homes do come on the market, Durant says they sell fast and often for well above the asking price, which makes it harder for older buyers on a fixed income.

DURANT: And, oh, by the way, if they want to move into senior care, they can't do that either because there's two-year-long waiting lists to get into something. So they're terrified because they have no really good place to go.

RODNEY HARRELL: This isn't a Vermont issue. This is a U.S. issue.

KECK: Rodney Harrell is a housing analyst with AARP. He says, in a little more than a decade, there will be more Americans over age 65 than under 18. And the housing options they'll need are not available.

HARRELL: And I think, in a few years, it'll be at a point where we just can't ignore it. The challenge will be so high that it will be in every neighborhood, every community, that people will see these kind of shortcomings in their housing stock.

KECK: Beth Mace agrees. She's chief economist at the National Investment Center for Seniors, Housing and Care. She says higher interest rates and rising construction costs are one problem. Worker shortages across the board are another. But she says developers are noticing the need of aging consumers. So are states. California and Vermont have adjusted zoning laws to make it easier to build accessory dwellings, like in-law apartments over a garage. In the meantime, Mace says homeowners unable to downsize may be able to take advantage of an extra bedroom by renting it out to a younger person who can help around the house.

BETH MACE: I think you're going to see more intergenerational housing. I think you're going to see more "Golden Girls"-type housing, where a group of women - or men, for that matter - get together and house with each other and take care of each other.

KECK: Mace and Harrell say the good news is local communities and state leaders are beginning to talk about this subject. But with baby boomers nearing 80, they say action is needed fast.

For NPR News, I'm Nina Keck in Chittenden, Vt.

(SOUNDBITE OF CLOUDCHORD AND HEADPHONE ACTIVIST'S "ATTICS AND BASEMENTS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nina has been reporting for VPR since 1996, primarily focusing on the Rutland area. An experienced journalist, Nina covered international and national news for seven years with the Voice of America, working in Washington, D.C., and Germany. While in Germany, she also worked as a stringer for Marketplace. Nina has been honored with two national Edward R. Murrow Awards: In 2006, she won for her investigative reporting on VPR and in 2009 she won for her use of sound. She began her career at Wisconsin Public Radio.