Accessory Housing – The Time Will Come, Soon

My great grandparents lived in a small cottage behind the big house where my father lived. When he was a boy, my father worked in the garden beside the cottage with his grandfather. He remembers spending a great deal of time with him. Grandparents still provide child care; sometimes a lot of it, but most don’t live at the same address as their children, as was the norm in this country until after World War II.

By then, Social Security, greater overall prosperity and single family suburban living began to erode extended family living. Some are beginning to question the wisdom of this separation for both economic and social reasons. When it’s time to adjust to an aging lifestyle, assisted living is an option if you have the funds and then there is the nursing home where having no funds works just fine. But a visit to a nursing home, even a good one will have you wishing it never happens to you.

Most communities have provisions in their zoning bylaws for accessory dwellings. All come with restrictions with respect to size, appearance, occupancy and other limitations. However, presently the demand for such housing isn’t there. A house with an “in-law apartment,” will occasionally come on the market, though less often then a buyer with that need. New construction with a first-floor master bedroom is about the only nod to the housing needs of older folks that you will see coming to market, and that is not often. With the limited supply of existing and new housing inadequate to meet current demand, you would think that the accessory dwelling unit option could fill some of the gap.

The only remnant of innovation making the news is the tiny house movement. Like an accessory dwelling unit, the tiny house is small, yet clearly not fit for anyone with mobility issues. But unlike the tiny house, accessory dwelling units cannot be separately owned from the main house. Which is probably why the economics of converting or building new is not happening.

But, and you read it here, that will change. Spoken as an aging baby boomer at the vanguard of a major housing crunch; just as my selfish generation has always grabbed for all we can get, we will require our children to take us in! Contractors will specialize in adapting the big colonial into a multigenerational duplex and our children will find no better way to tap their inheritance.

We cannot be expected to give up our privacy, so only a well-appointed accessory dwelling unit will do, better still, that cottage behind the big house with a garden sounds much nicer.

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