‘People want independence’

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You often read about people whose retirement planning includes a move to some place exotic — or at least warm. But for most people, that move never happens, says John McIlwain, senior resident fellow for the Urban Land Institute, who recently researched this and related issues.

McIlwain points out that 70 percent of people older than 67 — members of the great and silent Generations — are living in the same place where they lived when they celebrated their 65th birthday. He says baby boomers are likely to be even less inclined to move.

He writes, “The housing bust has trapped many Leading-Edge Boomers in large suburban homes whose values have fallen, often below the amount of debt they secure. Even those willing and able to sell their homes are likely to be more conservative, more risk averse, and so less willing to head off to new horizons in the face of an uncertain economy.”

So if we are all going to age in place, who is going to mow the lawn and how are we going to pay to replace the roof?

“There are no silver bullets for solving these problems,” McIlwain says. “Where is the Lone Ranger when you need him?”

If the Lone Ranger isn’t going to mow, McIlwain thinks that both boomers and municipalities should start planning now to figure out who will do the job. Recent Housing and Urban Development studies point out that houses in neighborhoods with large aging populations appreciated in value 1 percent to 3 percent less than comparable neighborhoods with younger residents.

One thing’s for sure, none of the boomer and older generations are very inclined toward leaving their homes and moving into institutions. That includes retirement homes, which are having growing difficulties wooing residents, and over-55 age-restricted communities, which McIlwain says are begging municipalities to allow them to eliminate their age limits.

He advises suburban municipalities with aging populations to consider these options.

  • Foster the creation of small group homes and multigenerational living by allowing large single-family homes to be reconfigured.
  • Organize “virtual villages” where residents pay a fee to participate in home-repair cooperatives and get discounts and assistance with other personal services.
  • Allow age-restricted communities to change their rules so younger people can move in.
  • Encourage retrofits of existing buildings and municipal facilities so they better meet the needs of seniors.
  • Rethink the rules that restrict placement of manufactured homes.
  • Allow for the construction of housing units that are 200 square feet to 300 square feet, offering low-cost living for singles.
  • Provide flexible transportation services for everybody.

As McIlwain says, “People want independence.”