Returning to types of housing we need to age in place

Home is where the heart is, and we tend to share our hearts with the people around us. As we age and get ready to downsize and simplify our lives, why should we have to leave the communities that make our homes feel like homes?

Most housing markets do not offer the opportunity to downsize within one’s community, requiring individuals to move sometimes hours away from their homes to find right-sized housing. This can have severe negative effects on our health when we are forced to leave everything we know behind and try to start over in a different place, especially at a time in our lives when we might require extra care from our neighbors, friends, and loved ones.

America is facing a loneliness epidemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, social isolation has been reported to contribute to the risk of premature death, dementia, and mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Fortunately, we can combat this by revamping our housing choices in our communities.

The Whitley family house shows how people can age in place.

Credit: Reporter Newspapers

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Credit: Reporter Newspapers

There are many existing housing types that can enable people to downsize comfortably and age in place. Some options include accessory dwelling units, duplexes and multiplexes, or cottage court communities, which are neighborhoods consisting of “right-sized” houses (usually less than 1,200 square feet) clustered together around a common green space. These types of developments are designed with community in mind–they bring people together and enable the neighborly interactions that have long been forgotten in many communities.

Accessory dwelling units, also known as mother-in-law suites or granny flats, are the cute little houses you build in your backyard. An ADU can also be a separate section of the main home converted into an independent residence. Here are some ways to use an ADU: allow family their own place to stay when they visit; rent out the ADU for additional income; live in the ADU and rent out the main home (and be able to travel more!); downsize into the ADU and allow your adult children to live in the main house; have a live-in caretaker reside in the ADU

Duplexes and multiplexes are another great right-sized housing option. These homes add thoughtful density without changing the character of the neighborhood. They are also a great option for downsizing within your ZIP code at an attainable price.

But diversifying housing types in a community isn’t enough. Walkability and access to public transit are vital. Most places are car-centric with limited walkability. We need options for getting around that don’t require driving.

Also, the housing types we mentioned are not available (or even allowed) in many places. Our current zoning laws are limiting, unimaginative, and stifling to greater community health and diversity of all kinds. Though the housing types we’ve discussed used to be commonplace, they have faded out of our housing stock and are all but forgotten in many communities. They often don’t meet updated zoning requirements, preventing them from being built new today even though the need for them is still there.

What can we do about it?

First and foremost, we need to educate ourselves and our neighbors on what these housing types are, why they are important, and how they can benefit our lives and our communities.

Next, we can meet with our local policymakers and zoning and planning officials to discuss reinstituting these missing housing types. For more information on how to reach out to your policymakers about housing choice, please contact us at

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