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Homes for a Changing Region series: Housing for the life cycle

Village of Gurnee Planning and Zoning Division

Senior living complexes, like the above-pictured Thomas Place in Gurnee, are an important part of helping residents stay in their communities as they age.

This post is the second post in a series of five that Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) is running on its Homes for a Changing Region project, a collaboration with Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning and Metropolitan Mayors Caucus that uses demographic projections and housing stock studies to inform housing plans for various Chicagoland municipalities. To view the other posts in the series, please click here.

“The only way to get [the younger generation] to move here is that we have to have some type of new rental housing stock near the train station to attract them.”

Those of you who have been reading this blog series will recognize that quote from Oak Forest’s Community Development Director Adam Dotson. He was talking about transit-oriented development, but the quote also pertains to another major trend that we noticed from following up with the early Homes communities: creating a housing stock and neighborhood infrastructure that allows residents to be comfortably housed throughout all stages of life.

We’ve covered aging in place before, and while the term may be most closely associated with the elderly, in reality we are all aging from the moment we are born.

Richard Florida recently wrote about the three typical “big moves” in Americans’ lives (all of which are touched on below), and the article highlights that, “[t]he best cities are not homogenous, but diverse mosaics. At new life stages, people could move a few blocks instead of across the country.” In this case, the alternative might be moving to a different town in Chicagoland rather than across the country, but the point remains the same—creating communities where people of all ages and abilities can thrive is optimal.

Of course, in order for people to age in place, they first need to be in that place. Suburbs like Oak Forest, which have not typically had a base of young residents, are trying to attract “millennials” with the hope that they will stay for the long term after the first big move that Florida categorizes as the post-college, establishing an independent life and career step.

“As those [young] people who are moving into our community get a little older,” said Dotson, “we hope what they’re going to do is starting peeking into the neighborhood and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to buy a house now. I live in this apartment by the train station, I like this community, now I want to buy a home.’”

The village of Plainfield, 37 miles southwest of Chicago, has seen some progress on bringing in younger residents, with a new 340 unit apartment complex that planner Mike Garrigan describes as “a little below median income.”

“If you’re a young kid coming out of college…this is literally what you’re looking for,” said Garrigan. “In fact, it’s amazing how many teachers, I’ve just found empirically talking with the leasing agents… have taken leases, apartments in this development.”

While providing housing for those who are just starting to live on their own is important, an even larger theme across the towns that participated in Homes is that of housing for seniors. As the population continues to age, more communities have begun to realize that they are not equipped with enough housing for the elderly population. Whether or not they need assisted living, seniors tend to desire smaller, more compact housing with more available amenities. If this type of housing is not readily available where they live, many seniors are forced to move elsewhere as their lifestyles change.

“One thing that the Homes for a Changing Region [study] showed us was that a large portion of our population, as they aged, had no place to go,” said Krysti Kovarik, mayor of north suburban Gurnee. “Another portion of our population who may have older parents, that they wanted to keep closer to them, had no alternatives and no choices in town. And it also showed us that a large portion of the elderly population is low-to-moderate income, and they definitely would end up having to leave town. And that’s really tragic, when people have spent sometimes their entire lives in the community and then at the end, when they should be able to enjoy it, they can’t stay in what is their home.”

Since this realization, Gurnee has already seen progress in improving its senior housing stock. Using their Homes report as proof of the need, city officials pushed for new development. Thomas Place, an affordable and accessible 100-unit senior housing complex, was completed in May 2012, and is so popular that it has a waiting list of interested tenants. The town is also working on other projects for seniors with various types of disabilities.

The south suburb of Blue Island has seen similar progress with a senior housing complex in its Fay's Point neighborhood. According to Supervisor of Planning Jodi Prout, the 90-unit affordably priced complex was filled just a few months after opening. Blue Island is now in the process of adding some assisted living units, which should be completed in 2014.

This type of work is being planned for in communities all over Chicagoland, and with good reason. According to Homes projections, residents over the age of 65 are projected to make up 17 percent of the region’s population by 2030, up from 11 percent in 2000. This population shift will undoubtedly affect the housing market, but whether we are nearing retirement age or not, all of us are aging. Many towns in the Homes study have taken on the range of life cycle needs, from, as Florida categorizes it, the 23-year-old starting out on her own, to the 33-year-old looking for a place to raise a family, to the 63-year-old determining his ideal empty nest. With an expanded commitment to housing people at all of these stages, we can have the option to transition through all of them in the communities we call home.

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