Municipalities Should Help their Residents to “Age in Place”
By Timothy Bupp
We are growing older -- surprise! -- not only individually, but also as a county. York Countians today are living longer, fuller lives. Our average life expectancy today is 79 years, as compared to 49 in 1900. Today more than 38% of York Countians are over age 50, and 16% are 65 or older. The number of county residents age 85+ is expected to triple in the next twenty years.
While our senior population continues to age, suitable housing options for older York Countians is not keeping up. Not only is currently-available housing inadequate for our older population, housing options available to seniors at both market rates or elder-assisted rates is not growing at a pace to match growing demand. As of April 2017, more than 1,900 older adults were on waiting lists for one of 2,000 coveted low-income senior housing units in York County; many are wait-listed for years, or never qualify.
At the same time, many of our municipal ordinances restrict or prohibit flexibility to residential development that could otherwise allow for, and encourage, additional older-adult housing opportunities. Most ordinances severely limit additions to residences that would allow a separate dwelling unit for a senior relative. Often there are strict limitations placed on an “in-law quarters” use, requiring that a “hardship” permit be obtained, or in many zones, prohibiting such use outright. Municipalities are right to be concerned with a potential increase of dwelling units, but should be aware of and open to strategies that assist their senior residents to age in place.
The York County Community Foundation (YCCF) Embracing Aging Initiative has teamed with the York County Planning Commission (YCPC) to provide education and support for municipalities to understand and implement smart housing opportunities for our growing senior population. Their program is currently in the study phase, but YCCF and YCPC hope to soon bring their information before municipalities to help them keep up with senior housing desires and needs.
How can municipalities help? Here are some age-in-place options that municipal officials can consider incorporating into their zoning:
1. Incorporate non-traditional housing options into the residential or village zones, such as: Co-Housing (a community of privately-owned homes clustered around a shared common space, designed to be specifically intergenerational); Housing Co-ops or Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORC) (where members of a neighborhood covenant to create a network of shared support services); or Niche Retirement Communities (55+ communities where people share common interests and goals). Seniors desire such alternatives in housing, and developers will be open to such options if reasonable and profitable to build.
2. Make allowance for zoning flexibility to add an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) on a family/friend’s property or to convert a family/friend’s garage apartment or finished basement. Such usage could be augmented with expansion of rental provisions specifically to allow for senior occupation, and/or language that promotes multi-generational habitation.
3. Allow unconventionally-sized housing units. In addition to allowing ADUs within the residence structure, aging in place can be augmented by introducing smaller housing units or even “tiny” housing. Smaller on-site units can be utilized by seniors or their caregivers, and could be licensed and monitored by the municipality. Such hybrid housing in smaller sized units, perhaps between 1,000 and 2,000 sq. ft., could provide seniors with desirable amenities such as exposure to natural light and covered parking, for modest construction costs, either on a residential lot or small farm, or clustered together in an NORC.
A recent AARP survey indicated that 77% of us want to age in our community, and 76% of us desire to age in our own residence, rather than transfer to an community elsewhere. Municipal officials must be sensitive to constituents’ desires and changing needs; residents look to their leaders to empower them to continue to live their lives where they’ve been born, raised, and aged. Forward-thinking strategies can help us all, and support and assistance is available.
More information on options for municipalities regarding Aging in Place can be obtained from YCPC (Kurt Leitholf, 717.771.9870); from YCCF (Cathy Bollinger, 717.848.3733); or from your municipal solicitor.
Tim Bupp is shareholder at CGA Law Firm and a member of the firm’s municipal practice group. He is fifty-five and getting older every day.