By BILL McCOY
Seniors overwhelmingly hope to “age in place.” A few years ago, aging in place usually meant remaining in one’s existing residence for as long as possible. More recently, the term has come to mean a desire to continue living in one’s community, even though your housing may change. The change in definition recognizes that the housing needs of older adults change over time, particularly relating to size of unit and upkeep required.
This change also is a result of the explosion of housing options that exist for seniors. The private development sector, which has been hard hit by the current housing crisis, has seen and taken advantage of continuing demand from seniors for increased variety in housing options.
A recent AARP Bulletin (April 2011) described four of the more novel approaches to the changing demand from seniors.
- Niche Communities – People with common interests, similar lifestyles, and/or shared experiences decide to live together. The most rapidly growing type of “niche communities” is the university-based retirement communities (URBCs). While these communities typically target healthy older adults, they are increasingly adding some assisted living features.
- Co-housing – Usually composed of strangers who buy into a living arrangement (development) which has individual housing units with some shared space. An example would be meals in a common area. Interestingly, some of these feature inter-generational living options. This sounds like a new take (more privacy) on the communal living arrangements that some experimented with in the 1960s.
- Green House – This is a new concept for a more care-oriented (nursing home) option. This has some similarities to the group home concept. Up to 10 seniors have private quarters in a large house with an open kitchen and dining area. Residents claim that this feels much more like living in a house rather than a nursing home.
- The Village Model – This is basically a homeowners association open to seniors for the purpose of gaining some level of service that will extend the time that they will be able to stay in their houses. Typically, members pay a monthly fee for a short menu of services (covered by monthly fee) and a lengthier menu of vetted and recommended service providers (paid by customer).
None of these models exist in North Mecklenburg, or anywhere in Mecklenburg County for that matter. Two of the options seem particularly attractive for our area: the University(College) Based Retirement Community and the Village Model.
Another option to stay in one’s housing unit for seniors with more severe needs is to have either part time or full time care-giving provided on site. A fifth housing option that helps alleviate some of the most difficult issues with on site caregiving is accessory housing. Having additional people within the household using the same kitchen and bathrooms as the resident(s) is always difficult. A primary need is for privacy, and one way of achieving some level of privacy even in these circumstances is to have a second residence on the same parcel.
This second unit option is what is referred to as accessory housing and includes such possibilities as a garage apartment, a basement apartment, an attic apartment, granny flats, or some other similar arrangement. The accessory unit is usually characterized as a studio apartment: a small living space with a kitchen and bathroom.
All six Mecklenburg towns and the City of Charlotte have code provisions in their zoning ordinances for accessory housing; however, the Town of Davidson seems to be the only one that promotes this option. About a quarter of the townhomes where my wife and I reside (the St. Alban’s neighborhood) have casitas, or garage apartments.
In Davidson, other new developments as well as houses developed both before and after there was a zoning ordinance also have accessory housing units. In Charlotte, the neighborhood with the most accessory housing units is probably Myers Park, which was built before there was a zoning ordinance in Charlotte.
Having an accessory unit for a caregiver is potentially a huge advantage for those wishing to stay “in place” as long as possible. However, there are additional advantages for both the homeowner and the community: Density is increased slightly but with no concomitant infrastructure cost; property tax reflects two housing units rather than one; these units are more likely to be “affordable;” the units provide an income stream for the homeowner; and, this option enhances opportunities for intergenerational housing.
In conclusion, the four options mentioned in the recent AARP Bulletin and the fifth option, accessory housing, are attractive for seniors wanting to age in their home, in their community, or inviting environments of their own choosing.
For those of us living in Davidson, the only one of these options currently available is accessory housing. As we age, accessory housing units are likely to become more attractive. The senior friendly approach to housing by the Town of Davidson should be applauded, because Davidson, the other North Mecklenburg towns and Mooresville in South Iredell are already attractive destinations for boomers and retirees. This attraction is likely to accelerate as the economy improves.
Bill McCoy is a Davidson resident and the retired director of the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute. He wrote this article as part of DavidsonNews.net’s ongoing series in cooperation with the Davidson Committee on Aging. See previous articles in the series under the “Aging in Place” tag.