The Housing Shift: Part 2
One of the truly exciting aspects of aging in community today is the ingenuity behind some of the communities being developed. For instance, while senior living options such as Avanti offer an onsite program that encourages residents and kids to mingle and expand one another’s worldview, Treehouse catapults intergenerational living into a unique, visionary direction.
The first such mission-driven community, now a decade old, opened in western Massachusetts to support families who are fostering and adopting children from the public foster care system. Offering affordable rentals as well as homes for purchase (good news for HECM loan originators), the community was carefully designed to ensure families and seniors are interspersed around Treehouse Circle, with the Community Center serving as a central gathering space. This inventive model has been so successful it’s now being replicated in California.
Resident Mary Steele, 82, who raised her own granddaughter from age 10, says living at Treehouse “gives me a sense of belonging and satisfaction. Parents need as much support as the kids. This place is ideal because I can continue to make a contribution. I also didn’t want to live with people all the same age.”
Needing to Be Needed
Creative communities such as Treehouse address the deeper issue around senior housing: being of use. It’s crucial to survive and thrive at any age, the more so as we move into elderhood. In a recent New York Times Op-Ed, the Dalai Lama writes, “In one shocking experiment, researchers found that senior citizens who didn’t feel useful to others were nearly three times as likely to die prematurely as those who did feel useful. This speaks to a broader human truth: We all need to be needed… Selflessness and joy are intertwined. The more we are one with the rest of humanity, the better we feel.
“We should start each day by consciously asking ourselves, ‘What can I do today to appreciate the gifts that others offer me?’ We need to make sure that global brotherhood and oneness with others are not just abstract ideas that we profess, but personal commitments that we mindfully put into practice.
“Each of us has the responsibility to make this a habit. But those in positions of responsibility have a special opportunity to expand inclusion and build societies that truly need everyone.”
Designing With Aging in Mind
Visionary city planners worldwide are rethinking how to make cities more livable and navigable for residents as they grow older. Intergenerational, sustainable communities are cropping up around the globe, from Kanazawa in Japan to Miss Sargfabrik in Austria. But as expected, the cost of change (and housing) isn’t cheap: homes in Atlanta’s evolving Mado community range from $300,000 to $1 million, though low-income housing options are in the planning stage.
Yet getting around cities with challenging terrain, such as hilly San Francisco, can be difficult as residents age. Bay Area nonprofit Institute on Aging brokered a three-way partnership with ride service leader Lyft and Whistlestop, a senior shuttle-van service, to provide more extensive, wheelchair accessible service to seniors.
“The story needs to be, what can we do to keep people living independently,” says Stephen Johnston, co-founder of Aging2.0. “We need to do a better job of incorporating older people into our lives.”
“Towns are frightened by density,” says Michael Glynn, vice president with National Development in Boston, who has built walkable communities primarily for older homeowners. “But if you build in the right, walkable location, it could do a lot of good for an 85-year-old.”