Some options for older homeowners with now-too-big houses

The developer of our microhousing community writes to me:

<A situation worth exploring is providing incentives to older citizens who live in homes that once accommodated their large families … encouraging them to move and converting their residences to multi-family occupancies….>

Yes, although to get them to move, there need to be appealing smaller places that they can afford. Many older people in Eugene cannot afford much. Quite a few have only Social Security as income.

I suggested the Eugene Abbey to one senior homeowner who joined our group, for instance. The Abbey provides senior apartments and two meals a day, on a leafy residential street just a few blocks from downtown. Home to about 50 seniors, it is run by a national nonprofit with 250 such residences, the Midwest-based Good Samaritan Society. But she couldnt afford it. (All-inclusive rates begin around $1,500/month for lodging, meals, utilities, internet, and housekeeping.) 

So we need to expand the affordable small-scale living options for seniors (and others) in Eugene. Here are some possibilities worth exploring.

  • Many older homeowners (especially single women) are coming to Springfield/Eugene MicroDwellers because they want to build or create a backyard cottage and live in it, while renting out their main house.

    This would be quite possible in Springfield and many other enlightened US cities and towns. In fact, Springfield residents may wish to connect with innovative Eugene architect/developer Dylan Lamar, who floated some creative ideas in a recent Eugene Weekly article: <Lamar says he would partner with homeowners to build ADUs in their backyards. He says he would have the people who live in the ADUs become co-owners of the property, which could benefit homeowners because somebody else could help pay their mortgages.>

    Eugene residents have more work to do. Unfortunately, our City Council has been dragging its feet all year despite a several-year-old state law requiring it to allow what are called accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in all residential zones. Over the years, it has imposed some two dozen requirements/restrictions on ADUs, and a majority of councilors are still clinging to them. Fees and charges imposed by the City and EWEB serve as an additional deterrent to would-be ADU creators. All this despite the Council having declared a housing emergency several years ago.

    ADUs have the potential to add thousands of lower-cost units to our housing stock, with no public subsidy, primarily because no money need be spent to acquire the land. There are 43,000 city tax lots in Eugene large enough for an ADU. If the owners of just 5% of those lots built ADUs, Eugene would gain an additional 2,100 units of housing!

    We hope that persuasion — and if that fails, the election of pro-housing Councilors in 2020 — will lead to the changes in this policy that our community urgently needs. Among other things, Eugene could follow the lead of other cities and
    * waive permitting fees and system development charges (SDCs), especially for ADUs of 400sf or less
    * make simple preapproved plans available on the City website
    * authorize City staff to encourage and guide homeowners through the process

    The Council will have yet another next work session on ADUs on January 21, 2020. Consider emailing them your thoughts in advance and testifying at the public forum beforehand on January 15. They have said they like to see new faces.
  • For older homeowners who have extra bedrooms and want to stay in their home, some communities have homesharing services that connect senior homeowners with vetted renters. Examples include Nesterly (which serves Boston and Columbus, Ohio), the New York Foundation for Senior Citizens, and Silvernest (which says it accepts listings for all areas, but most listings so far are from Colorado, California, and Florida; there are seven listings at present in Portland).

    To our knowledge, the City of Eugene has not created such a program or partnered with any senior homesharing platforms, despite the fact that about 20% of Northwest bedrooms are vacant on any given night … and likely a larger percentage among older empty-nesters. A further analysis by the same number-cruncher estimated that there were 45,000 to 50,000 empty bedrooms in Eugene.
  • For older homeowners who would like to move elsewhere and see their entire large house rented out to its maximum capacity (and, likely, revenue), co-living companies such as Bungalow, Common, and OpenDoor do just that. They contract with homeowners (of any age) to rent out all of the rooms in their houses to individual tenants, often providing community-building activities for residents of their houses as well. These firms are active in multiple cities, including Seattle and Portland, but none seem to have been recruited to Eugene despite our housing emergency.

    Smaller co-living companies abound as well. Jason Wallace of Community Room Rental in Charlotte, North Carolina, told me their highly successful service (100 bedrooms total, 100% full) is interested in franchising, and he thinks their business model could work anywhere. Atlanta-based PadSplit, one of six firms to win a prestigious grant from the Housing Lab at the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley this year, is also looking to expand to other cities, its founder Frank Furman told me. The Housing Lab calls PadSplit unique among co-living companies in focusing on providing housing that is affordable for low-income workers.

    To our knowledge, no enterprising businessperson in Eugene is yet pursuing these opportunities. But we do know that hundreds of such houses have been purchased by investors to rent out via Airbnb and other short-term rental (STR) platforms — to tourists, not our residents who need housing. The City Council will finally consider an ordinance regulating STRs, at their work session on December 11 at noon. Many other cities already regulate this industry.

    We have a separate post on the STR issue here. It is an eye-opener!

Published by Sherri Schultz

Writer & change-maker exploring micro-dwelling in Eugene, Oregon. Founder of Springfield/Eugene MicroDwellers: https://www.meetup.com/Micro-dwellers .

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3 Comments

  1. Thanks for this post. I’m in the “Golden Girl” category too, and would like to find a way to share housing by renting to people in my age group to live better with company. The idea of families is also changing: five unrelated people can be a family, such as the case with people on the autism spectrum who might share services.

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    1. Thanks for reading, Deena! Are you in the Eugene/Springfield area, or elsewhere? I havent (yet) done a comprehensive survey of senior homesharing services, but I am sure there are some others beyond the ones we mentioned.

      We totally agree with you about related people. We expect to see proposals for homesharing in our area that will help retire that rule. One Portland co-living developer said he felt any group living together and sharing a kitchen etc. were related.

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