Friday, April 29, 2016

Placer County wisely adopts changes easing the way for Granny Flats and other multi-generational living

If you have aging parents who are in their Golden Years, you may be facing a dilemma. With advancing age comes medical issues, special care needs, and lifestyle considerations, but putting them in a senior living facility often can feel isolating – not to mention expensive. You’d love to have them at home where you can still spend lots of time, feel close, and help supervise their needs are met, but having them live with you would be a total compromise of privacy. Of course the best part is that everyone in the family can remain close and enjoy creating cherished memories with elder family members. 

Luckily, there is another option that checks all the boxes for seniors as well as their families: Granny Flats, and Placer County just adopted new changes that makes it much easier to have them on your existing property.

Despite their quaint name, Granny Flats – sometimes also called Elder Cottages or ECHO Housing – they’re a smart solution to a huge need: housing elders or loved ones on the same property but not necessarily in the same home. Some Granny Flats are custom built just like a small house or cottage, while others opt for the increasing number of pre-built and modular Granny Flat options. These small homes are perfectly self-contained with a bedroom, living area, kitchen, and bathroom (so pool houses and guesthouses don’t qualify) and are equipped with complete utilities, but at a fraction of the cost of buying a new home or even paying for some sort of senior housing.

And the best part is that grandma (or grandpa, mom, dad, etc.) are close enough to walk across the back yard and come into the main family house for dinner – after knocking, of course.

While Granny Flats are common in areas of the country with a high senior concentration, Placer County just adopted changes that makes it much more feasibly for an existing homeowner, or builder, to construct a second housing unit on their single lot, whether that be a Granny Flat to house a family member or as part of specialized new housing developments.

Placer County now will allow a secondary unit on lots of only 5,000 square feet, a 50% reduction from the old rule that mandated a lot was at least 10,000 square feet for a homeowner to add a livable out-building. Deed restrictions that require dwellings to be affordable housing will now have their development fees waived under Placer’s new mandates, as long as the second unit is sized 250-1,200 square feet.

Chris Schmidt, a senior Placer County planner, said of the loosening of restrictions around secondary housing units, “It’s recognizing the demographics are changing. We see it happening in other communities.”

Finding a comfortable, economical, and convenient alternative to nursing homes, retirement communities, or seniors attempting to extend years living solo longer than they should, is no small problem. In fact, by 2029 there will be 71.4 million Americans 65 years and older, comprising about 20% of the population.

Under the increasingly population arrangement of aging parents or seniors with care needs living on the same property as family members – but not at the same address, it’s far easier to supervise care, incorporate daily tasks like grocery shopping, trips to the doctor, etc., and generally care for the elder, as well as include them in day-to-day family activities.

But Elder Cottages aren’t just for seniors these days, as multi-generational family living is such an increasingly popular trend that new homebuilders are specially constructing developments with them in mind. Aside from elders, secondary structures on the same lot may also accommodate live-in nannies and child care givers, young adult children who moved back home after college, space for office or cottage industry, out of town visitors, and temporary housing for young families, maybe to help them save money while they amass money to buy a house or to be close to family if they have a new baby.

No matter what the reason, Elder Cottages are ideally adapted to the needs to the person who will be living there. Modular or pre-built structures come at a fraction of the cost of stick-built small homes, with amenities that keep seniors in mind like:

• Easy navigation created with physical challenges in mind.
• Wheelchair access through all doorways
• Kitchen and bath may be tailored for wheelchair access
• Elevated toilets
• Reinforcing behind bathroom and other walls for optional grab bars

Likewise, for counties that have restrict secondary structures all together, these pre-built cottages are designed to be easily attached to an existing house, becoming an addition for grandma or family. They are also easy to dis-assemble and move if the family every changed residences or there was a change of plans. Of course homeowners need to arrange for a foundation to be set, and electric, water, and sewer hookups to be in place, either separately or usually tied into the main house. But most general contractors could do that with ease.

The prevalence of Granny Flats is sure to grow like wildfire around the country as our population ages in greater numbers, but now Placer County has opened the door to accommodating those seniors while creating an ideal living situation for the entire family.

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