My friends called it a starter house. At the time I thought “starter house” meant that I would soon move to have more space or to climb up in the housing market.
Twenty-seven years later, I’m still here. I guess my starter house really started something. While here, I’ve married, raised a daughter, planted trees, watched trees topple and cooked “starter” meals for my parents, who now struggle to get up the steps to the front door.
As I approach my 60th birthday, I understand in my bones why research says 90 percent of us prefer to “age in place.”
Although I can’t imagine leaving my current home, I worry that it’s not suited to accommodate my future life. Where will I move next? How will I maintain strong ties to my friends and family when I can’t drive? How will I get care when I need lots of it?
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These questions, and more, are the subject of an Orange County initiative called Aging in Community: Planning for Our Future. Led by the Orange County Department on Aging, Charles House, and Second Journey, and supported by Carol Woods and Carolina Meadows, we have hosted a speaker series to learn about new housing models for seniors. Some of the models we’ve explored include: Co-housing, “Golden Girl” Housing, Senior rental housing with an arts focus, Eldercare Homes, and Pocket Neighborhoods. Following on the heels of the speaker series, we hosted an event for community members who want to build some of the new models we’ve learned about.
So, what senior housing options are currently available in the county? To serve a county with 22,123 residents over 60 years of age, Orange County has 1,534 designated senior-specific housing units across the continuum of care. These include: two Reduced Rent Senior Apartments accepting Section 8 vouchers, three HUD subsidized Senior Apartment Options, a Continuing Care Retirement Community, four Family Care Homes, five Assisted Living Facilities, and three Nursing Homes. Costs for these options can be prohibitive and availability is limited. Housing that includes long-term care services often has no vacancies despite costs that average $5,500 per month.
One gap in our senior housing continuum is high-quality options for people with middle incomes. Beverly Shuford, an Orange County resident, shared her parents’ experience in searching for a senior friendly home in Orange County. “My dad has Parkinson’s and needs a motorized wheelchair to stay mobile,” she said. “Finding an affordable single story, wheelchair accessible house was very difficult.” Her mother commented, “Don’t they want older people in Orange County?”
During the Aging in Community speaker series over 100 people offered their opinions about what they wanted in their future housing. People have told us they want to live in single story structures that include universal design features, are energy efficient, and require little maintenance. Living in a natural environment that supports physical activity and social interactions across the generations is key. Finally, people said they prefer to live in a community that offers common spaces for gathering, quiet areas for contemplation, and access to public transportation. With such options at hand, maybe even I could get excited about a new home!
For more about Orange County Department on Aging (OCDoA) and the Aging in Community initiative, call Janice Tyler, OCDoA Director, 919-245-4255; Mary Fraser, OCDoA Aging Transitions Administrator, 919-245-4276; or visit orangecountync.gov/aging.
Cherie Rosemond, PT, PhD, is a research scientist at UNC’s Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. She consults with Orange County’s Department on Aging to implement the Master Aging Plan and is part of the planning group for Aging in Community.