Staying in our own homes as we age is a retirement planning goal for many of us.
But staying put in retirement can be expensive and difficult, especially if, like many of us, you live in an older home in a suburban neighborhood where getting around the house requires climbing steps, home maintenance is a constant issue, and practically nothing is within walking distance.
So I read "Independent for Life," a book edited by former Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros and written by a team of experts on aging, with considerable interest.
Cisneros introduces "Independent for Life" with a discussion of his own 85-year-old widowed mother's experience living in a small house in an older neighborhood in San Antonio, Texas. Using that as a backdrop, the book follows up with a comprehensive look at a wide range of potential solutions to the problems of living independently when you are old, including remodeling or building for accessibility and safety. Then it expands the discussion to include ways to retrofit older neighborhoods to make services accessible. The book offers a road map for working with community leaders and governments to find financing and get support and approvals.
Some of the ideas seem so obvious that it's surprising that it isn't done that way everywhere. For instance, in Swampscott, Mass., 15 miles north of Boston, the high school built in 2007 includes space for a senior center, allowing older people to use school facilities -- such as gyms, lecture halls, art and music studios, etc. -- when students aren't. When the community ran short on money to run the school library, seniors stepped up and volunteered to take on the task.
The book also talks about the City of Santa Cruz, Calif., which has begun to encourage the addition of mother-in-law or granny suites to existing houses in neighborhoods that are some of the priciest in the country. The program includes technical assistance to help homeowners identify the possibilities; a wage subsidy to help homeowners hire licensed contractors and a loan program with loans up to $100,000. The goal is to allow older people to live near but not with their children -- or vice versa.
I'm sure there are plenty of other good ideas along these lines in other parts of the country. If you are aware of one or have a great idea of your own, please share your thoughts below, and I'll feature some of them in future blogs.