Shot of a senior woman using a walker and looking thoughtfully out of a window in a retirement home

As the older population of the United States continues to grow, the Census Bureau fears that the stock of what it calls “aging-ready homes” may be inadequate to keep up with demand.

Aging-ready homes are defined by three features: A step-free entryway, and a bedroom and bathroom on the entry level, according to the bureau in its new report. Informed by the 2019 American Housing Survey, estimates place the number of aging-ready homes in the U.S. at about 50 million households, or only 40% of all homes in the country.

Many older households — where at least one resident is 65 years or older — do not have the accessibility features to support aging in place. Around 4 million of these older households, or 11% of older households in the U.S., reported challenges related to living in their home. For households where a resident is 85 years or older, about 25% reported home-related living challenges.

The most frequently reported difficulty among older households was trouble entering the home. Though step-free entryways can help, this feature may not be available for many. Of the 124 million housing units included in the report, nearly half had steps leading to the entryway. This challenge can be more pronounced for residents of certain geographic areas. For example, only 1 in 5 houses in New England have step-free entryways, and many of these homes are multistory. Multistory homes are less likely to have both a bathroom and a bedroom on the entry level, according to the report.

Home accessibility challenges also disproportionately affect people of lower income levels. These individuals generally experienced more accessibility issues within their homes compared to those earning greater incomes.

Despite the importance of home accessibility features for aging in place, very few people reported plans to make modifications to support aging. Only about 6% of older households reported plans to make accessibility improvements to their homes. The Census Bureau report noted two possible reasons for this: First, home improvements are costly and may be unaffordable for low-income households; building an entry floor bathroom can cost anywhere between $6,000 and $90,000, according to the report. Second, people who rent rather than own their homes may have a lack of control over home modifications for accessibility.

A Harvard study released in March found that older homeowners spent more than $84 billion in projects to facilitate aging in place. Some organizations, such as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or Habitat for Humanity, provide financial aid for older adults looking to make such accessibility modifications to their homes.