‘Elderly Housing’ – What’s in a name?

So, by now you likely all know that the last Public Hearing was cancelled at the last minute. The Beacon covered it earlier this week, actually, though I think they missed one point, in that the Applicants *did* make a request to the Planning Board to issue a continuance… ie, it wasn’t just the Planning Board’s idea.

Nonetheless, the Beacon article sparked a discussion in the Facebook group that raised an interesting point. Namely, much of the coverage in the media has been referring to this proposed development as ‘Elderly’ housing. Which made one community member comment whether it was reasonable to call a 55+ development ‘elderly’? I mean, even the ‘Senior’ housing label feels like a stretch, given how our population is aging, and that 50% of 64 year olds are still working full time.

Let’s consider a few things, like ‘Who Can Live Here?’, and ‘Senior Occupancy vs Ownership’, and ‘Benefits of Intergenerational Programs’:

Who can live here?

A few Hearings have covered the question of what ages will be permitted to live in these homes, and also how those age restrictions will be enforced.

Thus far, the best answers I’ve heard have been that at least 1 person over 55 must live in the home, and no one under 18 can live in the home for longer than a ‘visit’.

This latter condition was included in order to minimize the cost to the Town by way of limiting increased demand for services (ie school enrollment). In stark contrast, there is a whole Fiscal Impact Assessment that was submitted by the applicants earlier this year that makes a case for why the homes will bring more tax benefit than burden to Boxborough.

It is a great read… but I confess I ‘snorted’ a few times when I reviewed it. Especially the contradictory sections

Text from the Applicant’s Fiscal Impact Analysis

where the applicants claim that the occupants will not create much traffic, since 55+ retired residents don’t drive during rush hour – BUT the residents will bring a huge amount of disposable income (since the majority of them will be younger than average retirement age). Oh, and all that extra income they have to spend? It will remain in town, when spent in local businesses such as grocery stores and restaurants. Ha! Glad their data is so relevant to our community.

Occupancy vs Ownership:

One other interesting point was raised back in March, regarding whether the Planning Board has the authority to require that the age-restriction is applied at the level of occupancy versus ownership. In other words, if it were the former, the 55+ occupant could live in the home even if someone else (an adult child, perhaps) bought and owned the $550,000+ property.

What I haven’t heard a great answer for, to date, is what happens when/if the 55+ occupant moves (perhaps to a senior care facility?), or dies. Would the under 55 owner of the property be forced to sell? The unknowns surrounding this question may be behind the recent draft Condition that requires the age-based deed restriction to be Owner-defined, rather than just based on the age of the occupants. Notably, the representative from Toll Brothers expressed a strong dislike for this condition, when it was raised back in the spring. Presumably the smaller ‘buyer pool’ could have a negative impact on initial property sales?

Benefits of Intergenerational Spaces & Programs:

One other ‘food for thought’ point I’d like to add to the conversation is that I’ve been reading more and more lately about the value of ‘Intergenerational Programs’. Put simply, this is the growing practice of creating spaces and programming that bring children together with seniors. A quick google search on the topic finds an article in ForbesIntergenerational programs: Not just Nice, but Necessary“, and a link to Bridges Together, “the only organization in New England – and one of a few in the United States – devoted to training others to implement successful and meaningful intergenerational programs.”

Personally, I find these sorts of programs incredibly compelling – there’s a great blog post how these efforts combat the social isolation that comes with aging from a Boston-based senior advocacy group. And, quite honestly, this idea is why I was looking forward to the idea of a mixed-use Town Center, in the first place. A central location that combined senior housing with walkable services and gathering spaces seems exactly what our aging population needs.

Ok – I’ll leave it there for now. But I’d love for this discussion to be picked up at the Public Hearing on Monday! (8:20 pm at the Library).

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