Do Developers Know They’ll Get Old, Too?

Posted by Ted Wysocki on August 6, 2015

Mid-July marked the 20th anniversary of more than 700 Chicagoans dying in 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 Placeis an important concept, as it means people have a choice to stay in their homes as they get older. But there is growing recognition that “Aging in Community” is 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.

There are several key points covered in the current issue of Shelterforce, the theme of which is Aging. It’s worth the time to connect the dots:

Housing Beyond the Nuclear Family 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.

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 and reconfiguring was needed. After the proposed removal of the second kitchen, the locked door separating 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.

Staying Ahead of the Age Wave profiles groups working with older adults. But asks: Will their work 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, that crafts 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. One thing DHIC has done to meet this increased demand is combine developments into intergenerational "campuses," in which family units are adjacent to age-restricted communities.

Another article, Safe Banking for Seniors, 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. The authors conclude:

“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.”

"Authentic" Community

Among the 27 principles in the Congress for the New Urbanism’s (CNU) Charter is this:

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 they build and how little affordable housing must they provide.

This month marks the 36th year that my wife 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 of Chicago." That’s not a problem for me since I have a closet full of flannel shirts and my beard is older than most of them.

But 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 fencing 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.

In Milwaukee, one visionary who is developing for his city's future is Howard Snyder, who directs Northwest Side Community Development Corporation. In 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.

Having crossed the great “age” divide of 65, my question is will markets throughout the country respond to our new reality? And if so, how soon? You too should worry about the answers.

About the author more »

Ted Wysocki is the new CEO of the Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA)-USA, whose mission is to "Build a Just and Equitable Society in Harmony with Planet Earth.” Their website is www.ICA-USA.org. Ted launched his U2Cando blog and consulting practice in 2014 based on his 40+ years of community development experience. He is also an Affiliated Consultant with the Economic Development Assistance Consortium. Ted was CEO of the Local Economic & Employment Development Council, now North Branch Works, in Chicago for 12 years. Previously, he was CEO of the Chicago Association of Neighborhood Development Organizations (CANDO) for 17 years. He started his community development career in 1974 with Gale Cincotta, the mother of the Community Reinvestment Act. Ted is a director emeritus of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition.

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