Aging-in-Place: Living Here

This is the third in a series of four articles on the findings and recommendations of the Swarthmore Aging-in-Place Task Force. The author is Linton Stables, a member of the Task Force. This week he addresses Living here: recommendations on housing.

Housing is — along with healthcare — the major concern that people have as they plan for their future in Swarthmore Borough. Cost, accessibility, access to shopping and medical offices, safety, home maintenance, and proximity to friends and family are all factors in deciding whether to continue living in Swarthmore or to move elsewhere. As reported last week, Task Force transportation recommendations are heavily weighted toward walking. Realistically, to make walking more attractive the distances between home and destinations will have to be shorter.

The creation of a range of affordable housing options near downtown is a long-term goal for the borough, adding low-maintenance, affordable townhomes and apartments within a half-mile of the train station. Also, the borough should encourage the establishment of one or more senior living communities, such as a naturally-occurring retirement community (NORC), an intentional community (cohousing), or a group assisted-living home like a Green House(r). Just outside of the Town Center but still within the half-mile distance to the train station, additional housing and parking options could be accommodated in apartments above stores and professional offices. The Task Force heard from a number of people who are looking for such options in order to stay in Swarthmore.

Others, however, still want to continue living in their family home. Barriers such as school taxes and maintenance costs need to be addressed. Making those homes more accessible — perhaps with a bathroom and bedroom on the ground floor — may also be necessary. Paying for taxes, maintenance, and remodeling can be expensive, so offering the possibility of a mother-in-law apartment (accessory dwelling unit) in a home or a separate building such as a garage might offer additional income or a place for a caregiver or the senior person him/herself to live. This could even be done on a temporary basis using “granny pods,” a variation on the “tiny house” phenomenon. Likewise, in some locations in town, changing the zoning regulations to allow the conversion of large homes into apartments or condominiums would allow seniors to continue to live near friends in Swarthmore.

The Task Force recommends taking on one of the cost factors directly, supporting a more equitable statewide funding mechanism for schools in Pennsylvania, resulting in lower property taxes for most homeowners.

Physical barriers to living at home mount as we grow older. Steps, high cabinets, and bedrooms on another floor are a hindrance to a good quality of life at home. This does not have to be the case, and the Task Force recommends that everyone begin to assess their homes with an eye toward fixing some of the issues long before they become a problem.

The side benefit is that the homeowner can now welcome all kinds of old and new friends to their homes: people in wheelchairs, friends with temporary mobility problems, and other seniors. The cost of making homes more accessible is much less when the work is done alongside other remodeling. Grab bars in bathrooms do not have to be ugly or look institutional. Higher toilets can also be nicely designed and are helpful to just about everyone. Providing information and encouragement to homeowners, the borough can strive toward a town where everyone feels welcome, and where growing older does not necessarily mean moving from our homes.

Next Week: Getting it done: Implementing the recommendations of the Task Force. A copy of the presentation to Borough Council is available at http://www.swarthmorepa.org/DocumentCenter/View/390 and the full report can be found at http://www.swarthmorepa.org/DocumentCenter/View/391. Some of the terms used above are more fully explained in the report.

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