Age-restricted housing … a new euphanism for elitism?

23 Mar

I was running errands with a friend the other day, when she spotted a new development. “Oh, a gated community,” she said. “In Columbia! I wonder what that is?”

So we explored.

Off Snowden River Parkway, near the billions-o-box stores shopping center, was a 55+ community. As “Life” would have it, literally, I was getting out of her car to see the models when the Baltimore Examiner article titled Age-restricted housing options on the rise popped into my radar of vision.

The article basically said this type of 55+ housing is deleterious to a community and an economy. At least that’s my short-hand on it. But, of course, someone will always claim we need “senior housing.”

I agree. We need spaces and places for our seniors — many of whom still live in their original single family homes — to downsize. It’s a good thing to have the full gamut of ages in a community and it’s healthier for seniors, physically and emotionally, to “age in place.”

However, there ain’t nothin’ about these new homes that was “senior” oriented. A 2400 sq. ft. villa-style, amenity-rich home with cathedral ceilings, huge open spaces, steep steps inside the house, steps from the garage into the home, and steps at the front of the home is not “senior friendly.” It’s “I’m a well-to-do-and-older-than-you-friendly,” (starting around $460,000) but it’s hardly “senior-friendly housing.”

I had genuinely walked in expecting to find universal design: bathrooms with appropriate tub heights for easier (and safer) entries, grab bars in the bathrooms, wide (wheelchair accessible, if required) doorways, lever-type handles rather than knobs that have to be turned, higher toilet seats and strong handles next to the toilets to help with sitting and rising from the seats. Maybe even ramped front entrances.

Nada. The sales associate didn’t even know what I meant by the term “universal design” and wasn’t sure what I meant when I asked about “senior-friendly” amenities available to make a home more accessible.

Something’s up. And it’s certainly not the stock of high-quality “senior” housing.

Perhaps I’ll explore the condos for sale in the same community. But my sense is they probably won’t have any more universal design to them than the villas on offer. If anyone knows, pipe up.

It just strikes me that the housing mix and the types of permits given for housing could use more thinking and big-picture planning. We do need senior housing, no doubt about it. The kind that seniors can move into, and stay in, and age in place.

I’m just wondering what happened to all the Vietnam era protesters, the people who fought for civil rights, and the women’s movement. Did they forget what was important to them when they were young? Have they forgotten what they so proudly stood for in their youth? For integrated communities. For people of all races, ethnicities, religions (and now ages) living together?

Isn’t that why they moved to Columbia in the first place? To make a statement, to take a stand, for living in a diverse community?

I know that’s why my parents moved here.

And it was a real choice. It had deep impact on me … on my whole family. It was part and parcel of who I was: a child living in an intentional community where people came together to be more, together.

I want this, still.


5 Responses to “Age-restricted housing … a new euphanism for elitism?”

  1. jim adams March 23, 2007 at 1:15 pm #

    Jesse, are you a member of the Homes for Life Coaliation, a great group of people doing great work.

    I feel Univeral Design should be a legal requirement with ALL new home construction.

    Even for those young and those not disabled, it makes a house more of a home.

    Thanks for bring it up Jesse

  2. Dave Bittner March 27, 2007 at 3:12 pm #

    Here’s an interesting article outlining the actual laws regarding age-restricted housing –

    The ones I’ve seen in HoCo seem to be 55 and older, which means they have to be 80% over-55 occupied. So, legally, a young family with a bunch of kids could buy a house there, if they don’t mind being shunned by the rest of the community who clearly purchased with the hope of never again having to yell at kids to keep the hell off their lawn.

    My parents live in the Ryland condo down by the Town Center lakefront, which is a twin of the one being built over in Snowden overlook. One of the attractions to them was not having to deal with the stairs of their townhouse anymore. They had grab bars put in the showers, taller toilets, “senior” stuff like that. (Keep in ming that their building is not designated as being a senior community.) They love it!

    I agree that the whole idea of a gated community is antithetical to the Columbia philosophy, but the idealistic foundation on which it was built has, in many ways, fallen victim to its own success. All of the things that make this such a fantastic place to live (schools, planned community, low crime, location) drive up prices and make it harder for Columbia to stay truly diverse. Those of us who have stayed pay a premium for the quality of life we enjoy. To me, there’s no question that it’s worth it. I can’t imagine living anywhere else. 🙂

  3. cheriebeck April 5, 2007 at 3:41 am #

    Who is a senior citizen today and what kind of housing do they really need, I asked myself after reading this post.

    One of the traps we fall into in our thinking is that a one size fits all solution is workable for a collective of people. Today’s communities are chock full of diversity that at best we celebrate with words, at worse we ignore, and most often just struggle to tolerate.

    The diversity movement was so successful that now, in its wake, we face integration issues far more substantial than black vs white or young vs old. Columbia is one of the success stories, and as such is challenged to adapt to the new problems that arise from that success.

    Age is but one small indicator of need in today’s life conditions. What are the environments, the resources, the systems, the support structures required to meet the diverse needs Columbia’s residents? I suspect, we’ll discover a range of needs for people 55 and over, and a different range of needs for 65 and over, and a completely different range of needs for residents under 45 but older than 30 and still another range of needs for people between the ages of 24 and 29.

    How does a community make decisions for this kind of diversity? I don’t know. I can tell you what I know it’s not, and that is to let one group speak and act for all, unless that group can speak and act for all.

    I have yet to hear about, let alone meet, such a group.

    So rather than pigeon-holing 55+ communities, we can do a much better job at declaring lifestyle choices pertinent for a particular segment of residents that (in this case) a housing development is designing around, organizing, and supporting.

    Cherie Beck

  4. Kevin Bersette March 6, 2009 at 4:57 pm #

    Your “all inclusive” “diverse” community has thugs, boom cars from 6am to 2am, people who won’t mow their yards, gunshots, etc. Why would anyone want to force this junk on me? Rainbow and sugar idealism? Ha ha ha, I’m not stupid. It’s the same thing that motivates 90% of human behavior: control other people for your own benefit. Dems do it just like Repubs, but they’re more hypocritical.

  5. Richard J. Byrne October 19, 2009 at 9:50 am #

    The pols that help design this Old Peoples homes love them because 50% of our tax dollars go to education of kids…..and there are no kids in them.

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