By Kathy Eaton
Photos by John Butenschoen
Although housing shortages challenge every demographic group, seniors are particularly impacted, facing challenges resulting from housing shortages, rising rents, and limited savings to cover expenses in retirement. Three models that have similar goals but use different strategies include intentional co-housing, aging-in-place, and shared housing.
Jim Swenson, one of the founding members of PDX Commons, 4262 S.E. Belmont St., said it’s the first co-housing project for seniors, age 55+ in the Portland area, requiring at least 80 percent of 27 units be occupied by senior residents.
“We’re building a dream community, not necessarily your dream home,” said Susan Fries, who with her husband, Lew Bowers, bought into the co-housing concept in 2013. The founders, possessing expertise in development, banking, and marketing, evaluated 23 different close-in sites in Portland.
Laurelhurst Dye and Dry Cleaners previously occupied the site they selected and during construction, builders discovered four underground tanks buried below the concrete slab. While some neighbors initially objected to the displacement of the Bite on Belmont food carts situated on the site, the carts relocated across the street. Committed to strengthen community, PDX Commons will offer meeting space to Sunnyside neighbors to hold events.
“What we’re doing is creating the community first and then putting a building around it,” said Bowers. During the past three years, the core group worked tirelessly to share information about their project goals with prospective members. Associate members have 60 days to decide whether co-housing is a good fit for them and the community.
Projecting an opening date of March 30, 2017, so far 25 out of 27 units have sold. Beaumont-Wilshire resident Trudy Hussmann is the newest full member. After interacting with PDX Commons members, she found a community based on shared interests. Hussmann, an avid hiker, likes the consensus-based management model. “PDX Commons combines both community and privacy,” she said.
Neighbors helping neighbors age at home
The Village Movement, started in Boston in 2001, spread to Portland in 2011 with the establishment of Villages Northwest. One of seven villages in the Portland area, Northeast Village PDX, is scheduled to become fully operational in November. According to Margaret Baldwin, chair of the governing council of Northeast Village PDX, the village was established for neighbors to support seniors staying in their home for as long as they can, at the least cost possible.
“Villages will engage and coordinate a network of trained volunteers and reputable service providers to bring services to people rather than moving people to services,” said Baldwin.
Transportation is the most-requested service in villages. Parent organization Villages Northwest has partnered with Ride Connection to offer rides to seniors. Other available services include help with light housework, yard work and minor home repairs, as well as assistance using computers. Villages maintain lists of vetted professionals such as plumbers, electricians, and roofers. Where licensing is required by city code, volunteers can do an assessment of work needed and provide referrals to village members.
To date, 41 members and 50 volunteers have signed up for Northeast Village PDX. Members are not required to provide volunteer services, although 50 percent of members currently volunteer.
“We support active engagement with the community,” said Jane Braunger, chair of the marketing outreach committee, “and we’ve already launched a number of activities including city walks, bike rides, and movies to involve seniors.”
Shared housing opportunities
Rachel Mohlere, a banking official with Usher Financial Group, identified three housing trends among seniors: underutilized housing (particularly single women), social isolation, and financial shortages facing seniors in retirement. Mohlere specializes in developing strategies for seniors to remain in their homes by modifying them, creating usable space to generate rental income. “People need to leverage what they have to get what they need,” said Mohlere. She noted that many seniors carry mortgages into retirement and may have good equity in their homes, but lack funds to make home modifications. According to Mohlere, a variety of loan products are available to seniors, including home equity conversion loans and reverse mortgages. Another option available to seniors is building elder-friendly Accessory Dwelling Units to either move into, or rent them to generate income.
Seven years ago, Michele Fiasca, a colleague and co-visionary of Mohlere’s, created Let’s Share Housing. Through online meet-ups, Fiasca connects people looking for housemates with people looking for housing. In addition to providing safe and fun ways for people to meet, Fiasca will release a Let’s Share Housing website in October that will allow folks to match up online – as well as meet face to face. Beginning in 2017, Fiasca will offer workshops to help people determine what is important to ensure successful home-share experiences. The workshops will cover topics like what is important to you about your home space, how to pick the right housemates, legal rights and responsibilities, how to downsize and prepare, how to resolve conflicts and how to interview and set agreements with potential housemates. For more information, visit www.meetup.com/lets-share-housing/ or www.letssharehousing.com to be notified when programs launch.
Learn about senior housing options at these events, which are free and open to the public:
September 10: “Let’s Share Housing” meeting at Hollywood Library, 4040 N.E. Tillamook St., 1:45 p.m.-3:45 p.m. Followed by happy hour at Blackwell’s Grub/Steak Grill, 1815 N.E. 41st Ave. Call Michele Fiasca at (503) 680-8649.
October 25: Shared housing tips by Rachel Mohlere and Michele Fiasca at the Hollywood Senior Center, 1820 N.E. 40th Ave., 1:30 p.m.-3:00 p.m. Email moc.l1495817676aicna1495817676nifre1495817676hsu@l1495817676ehcar1495817676 or call Michele Fiasca at (503) 680-8649.