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By Jane Adler

The outlook for seniors housing appears bright as a huge wave of aging baby boomers begins to fill the pool of potential new residents. But a closer analysis of recent demographic data suggests that the coming surge could be smaller than expected and also uneven with some metro areas experiencing great demand while others languish.

The decline in geographic mobility is one trend that could impact seniors housing. According to statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau, the movement of people within the United States has declined over the past three decades.

Between 1984 and 1985, about 20 percent of Americans moved, but between 2012 and 2013, the mover rate was 11.7 percent. Part of the decline is attributed to an aging U.S. population, which is projected to be almost 20 percent of the country’s population by 2030.

Older people move less frequently than younger ones, notes Josh Miller, housing policy analyst at the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) based in Washington, D.C.

Miller writes for the popular “Eye on Housing” blog and pulls together statistics from various sources to gauge housing trends. Census figures show that only 3.7 percent of those ages 65 and older moved between 2012 and 2013.

A move is a high-cost event for seniors, says Miller. “It’s both financial and social.” Not only do older people have to pay for a move, but they also risk losing their community connections, which have been nurtured over decades. “It’s difficult to start over again,” says Miller.

Lower mobility rates coupled with the advent of more in-home services could impact the demand for seniors housing. “People want to age in place,” says Miller. He adds, however, that the older housing stock in regions such as the Northeast could push baby boomers to look for accessible, single-level housing.

At the same time, the country is aging unevenly. Some metro areas are growing older more quickly than others, according to William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution based in Washington, D.C.

States such as Pennsylvanian and Maine have an increasing percentage of elderly as younger people move to Sunbelt states such as Texas, where job opportunities are more plentiful.

Markets with older populations also have a larger share of the age 75-plus population. “When you get to be a certain age, you don’t move,” says Frey, who emphasizes that most moves are within the same metro area and not to different cities or states.

However, some seniors are still on the move. Cities posting migration gains for seniors from 2009 to 2012 included Phoenix, Riverside, Tampa, Atlanta and Denver. The top cities seniors moved away from were Chicago, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and New York.

The appearance of Denver and Atlanta near the top of the seniors wish list is a relatively new phenomenon, notes Frey. He compares the two cities to the all-time retiree relocation favorite of Florida with its cultural amenities and services that cater to seniors.

Another trend that could be driving the move by seniors to places like Atlanta and Denver is the desire to live near adult children and grandchildren who have already relocated to those places. “It’s happening,” says Frey.

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