More important for the future of real estate is the fact that this is not the “silver wave,” as some have described the large numbers of baby-boomers reaching retirement, but the start of a long-term change in both the local and national demographics.
Declining birth rates, combined with increased quality of medical care that have resulted in longer life expectancies, mean we are, as a population, getting older. This will lead to changes in the demand for housing, and it would be wise to start considering the practical impact and potential obstacles to meeting this changing demand.
Meeting this growing demand for senior housing will require both new residential construction and modifications of existing houses to fit seniors’ needs.
Thinking about senior-friendly new construction needs to start at the development stage of a community. Single-level or “master-on-the-main” floor plans provide the best opportunity for aging-in-place, but these plans require a larger lot than an equivalently-sized two-story house. If developers get fewer lots from a piece of land, it results in higher lot prices and higher home prices.
As new stormwater management and low-impact development requirements are implemented by the state, development costs will continue to rise, making housing affordability even more of a concern. One of the major housing concerns within the county’s aging plan is housing affordability. The county can help ensure housing affordability for both seniors and all of Clark County’s residents by providing an ample supply of buildable, residential land.
The larger lots needed for main-level living also decrease density, which results in new development occurring farther from core services. It makes for longer drives (or bus rides) to the grocery store, doctor’s office, recreational activities or place of employment. It also increases the cost for county services.
An alternative to traditional single-family housing that can provide a lower cost option for seniors is cottage housing. Cottage housing clusters small, single-family homes (Clark County limits the size of cottage homes to no more than 1,200 square feet) around common space on a single lot. Most areas allow for greater density with cottage housing, including Clark County, which allows a cottage housing development to have density double that of the underlying zone.
Another option is to increase density within already developed areas. This can be accomplished either by modifying existing homes to create separate living quarters or apartments, or by the construction of accessory dwelling units, or ADUs.
ADU’s are typically detached structures that consist of a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and sometimes a small living area, built on a lot with an existing single-family residence. In both Clark County and the city of Vancouver, ADUs cannot be more than either 800 square feet or 40 percent of the primary residence’s total square space, whichever is smaller. They must also conform to the overall style of the primary residence. ADUs can also be designated within an existing home.
Currently, applying for an ADU in the county requires a Type I Planning review at the cost of over $2,000, in addition to permit and building costs. These costs may act as a deterrent, particularly for lower income residents that may have limited other options. A solution could be reducing that fee for seniors or caregivers of seniors that would otherwise qualify for the county’s senior tax deferral program.
Housing is only one component of developing a community that promotes healthy aging, but getting it right is critical to the long-term growth of our area.