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What does our aging population mean for housing?

DON FENLEY • Apr 1, 2019 at 12:00 AM

Demographics here in the Tri-Cities look quite a bit different than they did a decade ago. The region – like the nation – is rapidly aging. The most current Census estimates show over 25 percent of the current area population is 60 or older.

As this trend progresses, it will affect almost all aspects of the local, regional and national economy, businesses and government services. Housing is not an exception. During the decade ending in 2017, the number of elders who rent has increased by 36.3 percent in the Kingsport-Bristol Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) while it has decreased by 3 percent in the Johnson City MSA.

That doesn’t mean homeownership doesn’t dominate the area housing market. The most current Census estimates show 29.5 percent of the households in the Johnson City MSA are renter-occupied – 27.5 percent in Kingsport-Bristol. But there is a notable demographic shift occurring that affects the housing industry.

While the number of renters who are 60 years old and older has increased in Kingsport-Bristol, the number of renters 25-59 has decreased by 3.5 percent. That shift isn’t seen in the Johnson City MSA where the number of younger renters has increased 4.3 percent in the last 10 years compared to the 4.5 percent increase for elder renters.

This seems to point to increased opportunities for multi-family investors who are syncing with the aging trend. Discussions with property managers in Kingsport show the same results of the Census data. One large complex has an estimated 30 percent occupancy of retired people. But while there is some pointed competition among Kingsport apartment complexes it hasn’t focused on the aging demographic, yet. The counterpoint is the city of Kingsport’s subsidy of a major downtown luxury complex intended to attract the same age group of renters that Census data shows is declining. City officials have said they think the Town Park Lofts will attract younger professionals from other areas. Increasing accommodations with amenities targeted to a younger clientele make sense on the surface, but it’s too early to see how well that plan works or if it’s sustainable. Meanwhile, the complex reportedly recently changed hands. Bankers, property managers, and real estate professionals talk about it, but both the original firm and the reported new owner have not responded to requests for comment.

Don Fenley is a semi-retired journalist. For more check out his blog, Core Data, at www.donfenley.com.

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