This past week was the 20th anniversary of more than 700 Chicagoans who died from a heat wave. When the temperature peaked at 106 degrees on July 13, 1995, it was mostly the poor and the elderly who were the victims. There were many lessons learned from this tragedy; but isolation was one culprit.

“Aging in Place” is important for seniors to have a choice to stay in their homes. Small Accessible Repairs for Seniors is a Chicago CDBG-funded program to make necessary modifications to enable that option. But there is a growing recognition that “Aging in Community” is becoming the next community development frontier: assuring that there are local housing options for seniors to stay in their community even when it is time to leave home.

SHELTERFORCE COVERThe most recent issue of SHELTERFORCE is dedicated to this topic. Housing Beyond the Nuclear Family by Shanté Booker describes the challenges that community groups face in rethinking how to design homes and developments to bring generations together, as multigenerational households increase.

To no surprise, building for multigenerational families is not easy. There are zoning hurdles such as prohibitions against “accessory dwellings.” This is what the City of Lakes Community Land Trust in North Minneapolis ran into when they proposed to create 1,600-sq.-ft. homes that included a single common area, three bedrooms, one and a half bathrooms, two kitchens, and locking internal doors separating them into two semi-separate living areas. These homes, essentially duplexes, would have allowed multigenerational families to live under the same roof.

Not so fast as the article details the story. While initially accepted by the Minneapolis City Council as is, before the project could move forward, it was determined that Minneapolis’s zoning laws did not allow accessory dwelling units. After having to remove the second kitchen, the locked door that would separate the home into two wings, and the half bathroom, the concept was left with only a 500-sq.- ft. single-family home. So much for innovative design.

A 2014 survey by the AARP Public Policy Institute documented that nearly 9 in 10 people age 65 and older want to stay put as they age. The Institute noted that members of the American Planning Association had approved a policy guide, Aging in Community, to provide its 40,000 members guidance and strategies to plan for an aging society. Recognizing that means a radical departure from business as usual, the policy guide addresses zoning that supports interspersing new housing types, such as accessory dwelling units, co-housing and intergenerational housing, within single-family home neighborhoods.

A second article in the current issue of SHELTERFORCE, Staying Ahead of the Age Wave by Keli A. Tianga, profiles groups working with older adults. But asks: Will it be enough?

“A ‘silver’ wave will very soon wash over our communities, causing a crisis in not only the inventory of affordable housing, but the appropriateness of this housing stock to accommodate an aging population.”

One group profiled is DHIC, a nonprofit housing developer in Raleigh, NC, crafting a range of creative interventions, from home modifications to service-enriched housing models, to allow seniors to age in place. Executive director Gregg Warren notes demand for senior housing has increased as the native population of seniors has grown, along with increased in-migration of seniors following family and seeking warmer climates—and affordable housing. What DHIC has done to overcome this obstacle is combine developments into intergenerational campuses, in which family units are adjacent to age-restricted communities.

The 27 principles in the Congress for the New Urbanism’s Charter include:

“Within neighborhoods, a broad range of housing types and price levels can bring people of diverse ages, races, and incomes into daily interaction, strengthening the personal and civic bonds essential to an authentic community.”

During my CANDO days, we shared a video presentation by CNU’s first Executive Director, Peter Katz, who demonstrated how one square block could accommodate:

  • mixed-use properties with stores, offices and apartments on the first side;
  • affordable housing for teachers and other public servants on the second side;
  • market rate housing for corporate professionals on the third side; and
  • senior housing with medical offices on the fourth side.

A multi-dimensional, mixed-use, mixed-income, and mixed-age community all in one place.

Unfortunately, developers are not incentivized, nor encouraged to look at vacant land with such creative vision. They only seem to be concerned with how high can I build and how little affordable housing must I provide.

This month marks the 36th year that my wife, Lynne, and I have lived in Chicago’s Logan Square. It’s been a racially and economically mixed community over those years. The most recent “immigrants” are hipsters who have been pushed out of other areas due to escalating rents. Logan Square is now referred to as the “Portland, Oregon” of Chicago. That’s not a problem for me since I have a closet full of flannel shirts and my beard is older than all of them. Besides, there are now more restaurant choices.

LoganSq protestBut the problem is that developers have now discovered Logan Square. Given our great transit access with the train line between downtown and O’Hare Airport, all four current proposed projects are touting “transit oriented development” with high density and minimal affordable units. Recently, protesters posted a 30-foot banner along construction fence that read “Logan Square is a community, not a property market.” These are opportunities for responsible community development. But it requires planning for Logan Square’s future; not developers’ net profits. When Lynne and I are ready to leave our home, it is not clear where we will be able to live in our community.

One visionary who is developing for Milwaukee’s future is our friend Howard Snyder, who directs Northwest Side Community Development Corporation. villard squareIn 2007, neighborhood leaders looked to accommodate the area’s growing number of grandparents as the primary caregivers for school age children with absent parents. On top of a brand new library, they built 47 units of affordable housing, currently home to 70 children. Villard Square Grandfamily Development is a prime example of mixed-age housing that provides a place for aging in community.

A third article in the current issue of SHELTERFORCE, Safe Banking for Seniors by Robert Zdenek with Karen Kali, shares the Age Friendly Banking strategies that the National Community Reinvestment Coalition [NCRC] has been promoting in communities around the country. This initiative is bringing together financial institutions, regulators, community development organizations, and those working specifically on aging, to develop and offer effective financial products, services, and protections that increase income, reduce expenses, and better protect older adults from financial fraud and abuse.

The article further notes that data shows the vast majority of older adults want to both age in place in their own homes and age in community to access a wider support network. This can be much less costly than institutionalization. The article concludes:

“The growing need for aging in community resources provides an excellent opportunity for community development organizations that have the affordable housing, community development, and finance strategies to respond to the growing needs and opportunities for older adults…. An age-friendly banking approach that focuses on supporting aging in community and place is the next community development opportunity.”

Having crossed the great “age” divide of 65, my questions are will the market respond? And if so, how soon? You too should worry about the answers.

This week’s lyrics for the U2Cando playlist, courtesy of Fleetwood Mac:

Oh, mirror in the sky, what is love?
Can the child within my heart rise above?
And can I sail through the changing ocean tides
Can I handle the seasons of my life?
Oh oh I don’t know, oh I don’t know

Well, I’ve been afraid of changing
‘Cause I’ve built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Children get older I’m getting older too
Yes I’m getting older too

Landslide by Stevie Nicks 


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