Home ownership, aging, accessibility

I recently attended a senior focus group at the Cleveland Heights (CH) Senior Center. I went because I wanted to hear about the concerns of our city’s aging population. Here’s what I learned: Cleveland Heights residents are die-hard fans—they want to age right here, if not in their homes, in a senior housing facility within the city limits. Furthermore, they are concerned with the lack of senior-friendly housing in the city. They want single-floor living with universal design, close to a bus line and the senior center.

The meeting ended with group members pledging to be “squeaky wheels” and I left feeling energized. After all, at Home Repair Resource Center (HRRC) we have begun to incorporate the principles of aging in place and universal design into our workshops. We believe it is essential that people consider these issues whenever they make home improvements. I was surprised to learn that there are not many affordable options for accessible housing in Cleveland Heights, nor in other communities in the region.

I also attended a seminar offered by Services for Independent Living Inc. It, too, bemoaned the lack of affordable options and predicted that the need for accessible housing will increase over the next decade.

When I returned home after the seminar, I began to panic. I told Dave, my fiancé, about the focus group and the seminar, and told him that we need to start thinking about aging in place, right now! What will happen if I am in a freak accident and break both of my legs, so I can’t get into my house, let alone up the stairs.

I know I have a tendency to over-react (maybe because I turned 30 in April), but I would have real problems if I were no longer able to handle stairs or needed a wheelchair to get around. My home is a typical inner-ring suburban structure, with exterior stairs leading to both front and rear doors. There’s a half bath on the first floor with an extremely small doorway and no room for a wheelchair, a tall and narrow staircase up to the second floor where the full bath and bedrooms are located, then more steps to the finished third floor.

“So,” I continued freaking out to Dave, “what could I possibly do in this situation?” He stared at me and calmly said, “We would find a way. We’d turn the dining room into your new bedroom. It’s freshly painted, you’d have a great view, you’d enjoy it.” Seriously, that’s the best answer?

We—all of us—need to think about these possibilities as we age and as we repair and renovate our aging homes. It helps to become informed. Accessibility doesn’t have to look sterile and hospital-like. Universal design can be visually pleasing, as well as practical. It most cases, it will increase a home’s value.

AARP has published Beautiful Living for the Second Half of Life, a book that focuses on “refurbishing and renovating—inside and out—to promote personal freedom and healthy longevity.” It promotes universal design features including “wide, no-threshold doorways, a first-floor bedroom, and a walk-in shower.”

AARP also offers a Home Fit Guide to help determine if your home is a healthy and safe environment where you can age in place. Search for Home Fit Guide at www.aarp.org/sitemap/ or call 877-926-8300 to request one.

The CH Senior Center will host “Senior Housing Matters” on May 30 from 1–3 p.m. This forum will provide an opportunity to learn about the future of elder-friendly housing in the Heights and surrounding areas. I will be there; join me. I have heard the seniors loud and clear and hope that others are listening too. Let’s be part of the “squeaky-wheel" group and push for change.

Allison Urbanek

Allison Urbanek is the program director for HRRC.

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Volume 6, Issue 5, Posted 4:53 PM, 04.30.2013