I went to a fair housing for seniors seminar last week at Minneapolis City Hall in celebration of April being designated as fair housing month. Fair Housing month opens the floodgates for one of my favorite rants-lack of universal design in senior housing.
I stomp my feet as I rage-on about how it doesn't cost anymore to raise electrical sockets, lower light switches and increase the size of doorways in homes when you initially build them. But, try to modify an existing home or senior housing community to increase accessibility-if it's even possible--costs at least triple what it would have had it been done in the first place. I usually end my rant with
Our aging population wants to age in place--in their homes. Builders aren't listening to what consumers want.
Then, it hit me. I had one of those experiences when a new idea-a new awareness hits you so hard it feels like you've hit the bottom of the hill on a roller coaster. One of those ideas where you can FEEL the light bulb go on. Gestalt Psychologists call this an "AHA" moment.
As a society we are uncomfortable with the thought of aging, growing old, becoming disabled. It's no wonder we're uncomfortable with it, look at how we discard our elderly. With the fear of becoming dependent, and no longer viable, we don't want to see household items that remind us that we are aging.
We even see this in some active adult 55+ communities. There is some disdain for seeing handrails in the hallways, or even seeing residents with walkers. Where there is some subtle discrimination against those who are showing visable signs of living with a disability. The discrimination is not from the owners or professionals, but from others that live in the building!
Here's the AHA. Builders aren't building accessible housing because consumers aren't buying it. We SAY we need it, boomers SAY they want to stay home as long as possible. But, because real estate is a long term investment, young couples in their 30s and 40s aren't thinking about grip bars, and bathrooms large enough for a wheelchair. What self respecting Gen Xer would buy a home with a walk-in shower built for a wheelchair with hand rails? Are we ready to buy a home that throws our own mortality right in our faces?
I've shopped with baby boomers who are looking for one level ramblers that can be adapted, and it's no small feat. Homes built in the 1950's came with bathrooms that are too small, and hallways that are too narrow. It's a major undertaking to remodel these homes. Great for designers and contractors, not so great for the baby boomer.
Are we saying we want to age in place but are willing to pay three times as much to remodel homes so that we don't have to look at those grab bars or ramps until we need them?
What say you?