Population Booms Could Alter Local Housing Markets
Two generations of Americans are likely to influence local planning, development, and economic activity in many ways during the coming 10 to 20 years: the retiring Baby Boom and the soon-to-be-working Echo Boom.
In 2010, people born from 1946 to 1950 will be ages 64 to 60, respectively – the leading edge that begins a retirement trend that will last 20 years. Today, many members of the Baby Boom enjoy comfortable incomes and accumulated wealth and generally good health. Baby Boomer household incomes are about $10,000 to $15,000 higher than the median for all households, according to the Census 2000 Supplementary Survey (C2SS). While earned income decreases during retirement, many of these households are building additional income sources during their peak earning years and will not have to rely only on Social Security and an employer's retirement plan, as did previous generations.
And, Boomers have substantial assets in their homes. The 1995 Census Bureau estimate of home equity for the 55 to 64 age group was about $70,000, 76% of the national 1995 median home value of $92,000 — and that was at the end of the recession that saw home prices drop considerably in many markets. Census 2000 sample data show a California median home value of $211,000 and that same 76% equity translates into $160,000. These 2000 numbers are already low given the recent increases in home prices in most areas of California.
Baby Boomers have three choices when they retire: stay in their current homes, move locally, or leave the area. Each possibility has consequences for a community. If boomers stay in their homes, which are likely to be upscale, larger homes in suburban settings, those neighborhoods will take on a different set of local government service needs and will remain assessed at lower than market values. Planners should be careful not to "smart growth" a retiring Baby Boomer neighborhood with higher density. After working all their lives to buy the a single-family detached house that holds a large share of their net worth, Baby Boomers could see higher densities as a threat to their home equities and way of life.
Some Baby Boomers may want to move locally to smaller, high-quality, low-maintenance, owner-occupied housing. This could be an opportunity for infill and upscale attached housing that also turns over the housing stock and boosts assessed values. The Baby Boomers' former neighborhoods would then, theoretically, be available to younger households with children. Cities might meet future housing needs by encouraging building at the top end of the market and letting the older, larger housing units filter down.
Finally, retiring Boomers may opt to "cash out" and go just about anywhere they please. If a community is already a pleasant retirement area, it's likely to stay that way and grow with more retirees — who could run up housing prices and eat into a housing supply that was originally planned to serve the locals.
The Echo Boom is the latter offspring of the Baby Boom, which started having children — albeit in smaller families — in 1970 and largely finished by 1995. The youngest kids of Baby Boomers added to the children of 1980's immigrants, many of whom had relatively large families, create this population bubble. In 2010, today's high school underclassmen will be looking for jobs, apartments and household necessities. Once they get jobs, Echo Boomers have to live somewhere. In tight housing markets, they could continue to live at home, team up into expensive rentals, or commute long distance. All of those options have inherent social, environmental and financial implications.
To check a community's boomer balance, use Census 2000 tables broken out by age cohorts. These data at all levels of census geography are in Summary File 1 (SF1 dataset), Table P12, Sex by Age. Use ages 35 to 44 and 45 to 54 to determine the Baby Boomer population, and age cohorts 5 to 9 and 10 to 14 to approximate the Echo Boomers. Set the data up in a spreadsheet (set either males or females to all negatives) and you can generate a simple population pyramid like the example shown below for the City of Ventura. Then, promote the 5-year cohorts by 10 years, so that the 0 to 5 population is now 10 to 15, and so on (shown in gray). This is a crude analysis, but it provides some warning of how the two booms may impact the city's future.