Baby Boomers did not move into their parent’s houses. For the most part they shunned the cramped apartments in bigger cities, the sprawling solitary farmhouses, and the turn-of-the century walk-ups and Victorians. Instead, the Baby Boomers rebuilt the US housing stock, and in most cases, these new homes defined the modern suburbs.
A RETHINK TO AGE-IN-PLACE
Today, as Baby Boomers age, they are rethinking how these suburban homes will accommodate an aging lifestyle. The journalist, Sally Abrahms, observes in a Wall St. Journal article that a mini “baby boom building boom” is taking place. There is a rethink going on among those who wish to age-in-place. There is recognition of retrofitting for future needs like homes that have a bedroom on the first floor, an easy-to-maintain interior and exterior, and curbless doors and floors.
Given their propensity to plan ahead, the Boomers next ‘Rethink’ should take place in the attached, but homely multi-car garage. The reason is that as people age they become less able to drive safely. In 2001, an estimated 23 percent of older adults were afflicted with mobility impairments. These are defined as medical conditions that make travel outside the home difficult. Afflictions like arthritis and diabetes, and age-related losses in memory and vision combine to make people less mobile, and less able to drive.
It remains to be seen whether Baby Boomers will be a healthier generation than their elders, or whether pockets of obesity and prescription drug use will take a toll. In 2013, 21 percent of the population over age 65 did not drive, but most of the cutback takes place at age 75 and beyond. It is well known that older drivers reduce the number of miles they travel (think less commuting) but the trends are changing. Retired Boomers take more individual trips and the average yearly mileage for those 70 and above is increasing. Inopportunely, it is women who cease driving sooner.
Unless Baby Boomers come to grips with the transportation issues, they will not be well equipped to age-in-place. This is particularly important for women, who may outlive their spouses, but are intending to remain in their family-friendly homes. While some Boomers will have perfectly intact homes that are well designed and thought out, they must reinvent their methods of transportation. How will they get around when they are less able drivers? Depending on the neighbors, adult children, or the paratransit van are not good solutions.
The need to think this through is important, since nearly 70% of the Boomers have settled in areas beyond the reach of public transportation. Fortunately, new transportation technologies are on the horizon and may be just-in-time when the oldest Boomers reach age 75 or so. In 2025 the AARP estimates that one in every five drivers will be over the age of 65 (and the oldest of the Boomers will be age 79).
COMING FULL CIRCLE:
Meanwhile, the homes that the Baby Boomers did not move into- their parents’ cramped apartments in big cities, and the turn-of-the century walk-ups and Victorians- these homes are getting renewed attention. That’s because they are centrally located near transit, and likely to be close-in for jobs, schools, restaurants, gyms, and more. So, both Millennials and the Boomers are bidding up the price of these rentals in urban, transit-friendly cities and inner suburbs. Meanwhile, the sprawling solitary farmhouses- many of them don’t really exist any more in the Northeast and Midwest. That’s because they were turned into the sprawling housing tracts and suburbia that Baby Boomers now call home-sweet-home.