Demographics drive urgency of senior housing solution for Brentwood

Demographics drive urgency of senior housing solution for Brentwood


At a recent Board of Commissioners work session to explore the need for senior-restricted neighborhoods in Brentwood, City Manager Kirk Bednar suggested that in a matter of months Brentwood residents could be seeing a rezoning ordinance first draft aimed at spurring the development of senior communities.

At a recent Board of Commissioners work session to explore the need for senior-restricted neighborhoods in Brentwood, City Manager Kirk Bednar suggested that in a matter of months Brentwood residents could be seeing a rezoning ordinance first draft aimed at spurring the development of senior communities.

Since senior housing typically features low-maintenance landscaping and shortened walking distances from door to curb, the question is how the new ordinance will address “the city’s fundamental density standard of one unit per acre.”

Residents’ impatience to see some movement on the issue is understandable. By median age figures, Brentwood skews six or seven years older than neighboring Nashville, not to mention greater Tennessee and the United States as a whole. And Brentwood, along with the rest of the country, is on the verge of a 10-year growth spurt in residents over 65.

But as the discussion of zoning laws, minimum units per acre and types of land use plods on, it’s easy to lose sight of the conversations on the ground among seniors. The first conversation is an imperative to start downsizing.

The senior downsize

In a recent University of Kentucky survey, 70% of people over age 60 expressed a desire to downsize. And according to census information, more than a third of Brentwood households contain someone 60 years of age or older. That adds up to a lot of people in Brentwood who could be thinking about downsizing.

Downsizing could mean everything from “clearing the clutter” or downsizing expenses to selling a home.

Sara Beth Warne of Brentwood-based Aging in Place Transition Services prefers to call it “right sizing.” For Brentwood planners, the wide diversity of needs becomes clear with a glance at the client comment page on Warne’s Transition Services Web site. One person’s downsize – of 2500 sq. ft. to 950 sq. ft. – is not another person’s downsize – “from a 12,000 square-foot home to a 2,500 square-foot villa” at the Heritage of Brentwood. Developers at the city commissioners’ work session looked at home sizes ranging from 1,600 – 4,000 square feet, clearly still short of the full range of needs.

In terms of the key features that might come with a senior downsize, Chris O’Neal, chief sales officer for Goodall Homes, one of the developers at the work session, ticked off some that are part of the typical senior-friendly homes he sells: “most of the main living is on one level, at least one entrance is zero steps, 36-inch wide doorways.”

Perry Pratt, vice president of Operations with The Jones Company, also at the work session, cautions planners not to think too small about downsizers’ needs and wants.

“Most of them would like a bedroom and maybe a bonus room on the second level,” said Pratt in an interview with BHP, “where the visitors can have a separate environment. A 3-car garage is often requested. The men have their toys, their antique car.”

But do they want walking trails, greenways, and parks? For example, the Bent Creek community in Nolensville developed by Goodall Homes, connects residents to creeks, meadows, “pocket parks” and “miles of walking trails.”

Pratt seems to think they do not. “We think that in Brentwood they have so much support, what with churches, parks, a series of walking trails.”

Determining how much open, accessible, or green space is one way the new ordinance will compare to the OSRD (Open Space Residential Development) and OSRD-IP (Innovative Project) zoning that is already in place. These zones allow a reduction in lot size as long as it is offset by enough designated “open space” to keep the overall density of the community at one house per acre. Examples of this type of community can be seen in subdivisions like McGavock Farms, Taramore, and Annandale, while Owl Creek is an example of the OSDR-IP overlay, “designed to encourage more significant land preservation.”

“It allows a smaller lot, down to 2,880 square feet,” said planning and codes director Jeff Dobson. “But even though you buy a smaller lot, you’re still buying an acre lot.”

As planners prepare the first draft of the new ordinance, Dobson says they are looking at higher density for senior-restricted neighborhoods. The move is based on the assumption that green space may come at a higher cost per unit, and is therefore expendable for those who are downsizing their finances.

“I would think there would be some open space,” Dobson said of the upcoming draft, “but it might be a greater density for seniors.”

Small plots accomplish the downsizing of upkeep. But the question remains whether those who downsize their acreage to move to a senior subdivision place a value on having green space available, and if so, how much green space, and at what cost?

Question 2: Aging in place
The second conversation seniors are having around their housing preferences is what does the home environment look like if I am to remain in it for as long as possible?

“Older homeowners overwhelmingly prefer to age in place,” AARP has found.

Aging in Place: Tech and Tips

Tech products that can help seniors manage life at home include everything from smart lighting, voice-to-print phone readers and digital medication managers, to remote caregiving tools, such as movement sensors with alert systems that can act as safety monitors (for example, detecting unusual lack of activity in highly used areas of the home) or as security monitors (detecting activity at windows or entranceways at unusual times).

In addition to zero-step entries, wheel chair accessible doorways and hallways, bathroom support rails, low maintenance landscaping, short distances from doors to driveways, curbside, or mail – all of which come standard with most senior-restricted housing – countless little adjustments and accommodations can make the home comfortable.

A few favorite tips from those in the industry:

  • “You want to place a lot of focus on the kitchen and the bathrooms,” Pratt says, “because those are the rooms with the most changes when something happens and you have restrictions.”
  • “Elevate the dishwasher so you’re not bending over as much,” says Chris O’Neal, chief sales operator for Goodall Homes.
  • Wheelchair access recesses beneath working surfaces such as counters and sinks also are useful upgrades.
  • Also recommended by, lever (rather than toggle) light switches, operable with an elbow when hands are full
  • Judy Good, marketing director for the Heritage at Brentwood, recommends lever-style handles on doors and cabinetry instead of cup handles and knobs for hands that have become less nimble. Now in her early 50s, Good says, “I’ve already started to change my handles.”

This goal, According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), involves addressing the three pillars of aging in place: safety, independence, and comfort.

Whether by downsizing, retrofitting, remodeling or relocating, the art of aging in place requires a long-term plan and some well-informed, preemptive thinking, which is why this “art” has exploded into a thriving industry. It includes transition consultants such as Warne, estate sale professionals, senior-savvy builders with Aging-in-Place certification (CAPS) from the National, remodeling project managers like Nashville-based A Better Nest, and countless products, not the least of which is a burgeoning software industry.

A Next Avenue article cited, “The National Association of Home Builders puts the aging-in-place remodeling market at $24 billion. That’s on top of the $30 billion dollar market (according to Semico Research) for aging-in-place tech products.”

Question 3: Long Term Care

In her role as marketing director at the Heritage, Judy Good says that the money spent retrofitting a home to age in could be better spent purchasing a plan that guarantees help and health care till the very end, no matter what unfolds. And that leads to the third conversation about senior living, planning for the possibility of declining health.

The Heritage of Brentwood is a CCRC or Continuing Care Retirement Community, which means that it contains housing for needs all along “the continuum of care,” from independent-living homes to assisted living apartments to a rehab facility with memory care.

“CCRCs,” the AARP website reports “guarantee lifetime housing, social activities and increased levels of care as needs change. These features, however, do come with a price.”

Typically, there is a large up-front cost against future medical care as well as monthly fees for the services. The individual does not buy the home, but the right to occupy a space in the community and a long-term service contract.

Using a similar model since the 1990s, Lakeshore’s senior-restricted community at Harpeth Meadows in Bellevue currently serves Brentwood residents. Its 150 one-level independent living homes are just down the hill from assisted living, rehab (nursing care), and memory care facilities. “It’s an occupancy right,” explains Harpeth Meadows Property Manager, Larry Stinson, “kind of like a lease paid up front.” There are many ways these communities can leverage the integration of care levels for the residents. At Harpeth Meadows, for instance, the emergency call system used in the houses goes both to the alarm company and the nurse’s station in the nursing care facility.

The guarantee of lifelong community, convenience and services, may seem like a great choice for those who can qualify and can afford to consider a CCRC. Still, choosing the right CCRC can be as daunting as the hunt for a 4-year university, where the experience, the community, the fit and the feel are all important considerations.

But it’s also a bit like living and paying for your college experience while you are still in high school. “You must get in while you are actively independent,” says Good. And the minimum age for moving in is 62 (with some exceptions).

At 62, someone who is fit and active may balk at the idea of trading their “domain” for long-term security. Instead, they opt for aging in place, which rests on the gamble that assisted living and rehab won’t become necessary any time soon, nor will it deplete the nest egg when they do.

In fact, according to both the census bureau and the CDC, roughly one third of people 65 and over will find themselves either with a disability or in poor health.

“Now you have become a prisoner in your own house,” says Good, noting that at this point, a lifelong contract at the Heritage is not an option.

Still, two out of three gamble and win, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have intermittent debilitation over the long haul. The formula for making the right gamble on aging in place, it turns out, is about as reliable as winning at cards – part shrewd knowledge of the game, part gut instinct, and part dumb luck.

Brentwood’s Aging Landscape from other perspectives

The community knows it has a need. During the past five years, surveys consistently show over 70% support for senior-restricted communities, whether in the form of apartments, CCRCs or single homes with land.

“We have seven communities in Williamson County,” says O’Neal of Goodall Homes, “and we have a lot of people from Brentwood who came to our communities.”

O’Neal is referring to the exodus of Brentwood residents to nearby towns as they age. “They want to live in Brentwood. That’s where they grew up, where their church is. Here’s an opportunity for Brentwood.”

As the city considers how its senior communities are going to look, the bottom line, according to Stinson is “Know what the community wants.”

From all indications, those wants are varied. If the input is as thoughtful and diverse as the ideas submitted a few years back on development of Turner’s Green Pastures farm, it will be especially interesting to see what input residents offer when the draft of a new ordinance comes up for review.

About The Author

Kelly Gilfillan is the owner-publisher of Home Page Media Group which has been publishing hyperlocal news since 2009.

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