“Baby Boomers, the first of whom are now over 60 themselves, have adult children living at home not yet able to afford their own place. They also may have aging parents beginning to need care and a safer housing environment. Senior housing in an Independent Living community can cost $3,000.00 per month and costs for assisted living are even higher. This expense puts the boomer families in a crunch between supporting their children and their parents earning them the nickname, The Sandwich Generation.” This quote is from Building for Boomers (2010) published by McGraw-Hill. Judy Schriener and I collaborated on this research-based work where we studied baby boomers, particularly where and how they would choose to live as they and their parents begin to grow older together.
According to the 2010 census data, every year another 500,000 individuals are added to the ranks of the sixty million living in crowded homes poorly suited to the American expectations of privacy and comfort. This is a large and growing market and, weakened by the recession, they are struggling.
But, ------Housing is not the issue until something happens
Family stories abound in their similarity and their variety. It’s common that plans are not made until the situation is suddenly worse due to unexpected illness or accident. My brother and I were unaware of mom’s frailty until Roger found plates with leftover food in her cabinet of clean dishes. She was plagued by mini-strokes that didn’t reveal themselves until we suddenly had to face the difficult questions of where and how to care for her, things such as the early stages of dementia, illnesses, hip fractures, insurance, food, and more. We both lived far away. Mom had little money and no insurance for long term care. Neither of us had the space to bring her into our homes, nor was she able to live alone.
If your local baby boomer homeowners haven’t made their plans, they may need your help. Since they waited until something happened they are now overwhelmed with all that needs to be done. There are issues of cost that need to be addressed along with safety, social interaction and quality of life. Will a new or renovated home that is safer and affordable make a loved one happy or should they let assisted living drain the family’s finances? These are uncomfortable conversations and more so because we become entwined with the family story.
A few years of living in a new safer environment with family members can conserve finances until more needs to be done. Granny Flats, Carriage Houses, cottages, Casitas, and accessory apartments are all names for an affordable housing choice some communities are making possible for their citizens. Accessory Dwelling Units or (ADUs) is the term used to encompass these various local and regional names. ADUs are small independent homes placed in the backyard of a larger home, attached to or placed within the primary home. ADUs provide room for an expanding family, aging parents, a young married couple needing help in their first years together, or they can just be a fun complement to an existing home. Accessory dwelling units may also be rented to provide additional family income.
Fortunately, cities across the country have adopted new zoning ordinances to allow ADUs. City planners have recognized the coming wave of seniors and these planners realize that there is little any city can do to provide housing for 77 million baby boomers and their aging parents. ADUs are one answer, and this has the added benefit of making cities denser.
Density is helpful to mass transportation efforts and the flourishing of local retail and services. California adopted a Second Unit law in 1992 that required that all cities enact their own regulations for ADUs or the state regulations would apply. They amended the law in 2003 to make the process easier. Both Oregon and Washington State adopted similar but less sweeping legislation. Vermont, and Mass. also have statewide legislation but otherwise it has been city by city. Colorado and Texas lead the way with widespread acceptance. Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia, and 30 or so other states have at least one city with friendly regulations for ADUs.
However, not everyone sees the proliferation of ADUs in backyards as a good thing. You and I may hear the stories of struggling families and look for ways to help, but some neighborhood groups see their neighborhood changing and it frightens them.
You may discover that your city has adopted, what were billed as ADU friendly regulations, but which actually discourage or prevent the addition of an ADU. Denver’s new ordinance explicitly excludes all but 13% of their single-family home sites that permit ADUs. Pasadena has a comprehensive set of regulations that only allows ADUs on lots of 15,000 sq. ft. or larger, and there are few lots that large in the city. Some cities limit ADUs to historical districts or other areas described with overlay districts. Then there’s the naming problem. (I used a few of the most common names for these secondary homes a few paragraphs earlier, granny flats, accessory apartments, etc.)
If you have butted heads with zoning officials and negative neighbors and are frustrated with the discrimination against Granny Flats, then the following is for you. New homebuilders can include flexible options within their model homes to provide everything needed for an independent living unit. Sometimes the regulations prevent the use of a second kitchen or a separate outside door to enter the second unit, but you can achieve most of what you want in an ADU by making it part of the house.
There are several ways to make a small house livable:
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