Zoning Laws Keep Seniors from Creative Housing Options

Article excerpt

Although housing innovations could keep thousands of elderly from economic hardship, entering nursing homes prematurely, or living in substandard housing, zoning laws inadvertently stand in the way, according to Patricia Baron Pollak, associate professor of consumer economics and housing.

"Despite court rulings that overturn outdated zoning laws that were written twenty or thirty years ago to preserve neighborhoods for 'traditional' families, similar local zoning laws still stand in many communities because they have not been challenged," says Pollak, who is director of Housing Options for Seniors Today, a public education program of Cornell Cooperative Extension and the New York State Office for the Aging, and chair of the American Planning Association's Division of Housing and Human Services.

In New York, for example, the McMinn v. Town of Oyster Bay case maintained that a zoning definition of family limiting the number of unrelated people allowed to live together was unconstitutional. Yet, local zoning laws stand until challenged.

"Current zoning in many communities nationwide deprives unrelated seniors of the social and economic opportunity of living together or the opportunity to live in their own unit on a relative's property. They are prevented from 'aging in place' with close social supports in mixed-age neighborhoods instead of in 'age ghettos,'" Pollak says.

"At the same time, communities are being deprived of the outlook and diversity offered when the elderly remain a vital part of community life and families are denied the opportunity to care for an elderly loved one economically while retaining family privacy. We all lose."

For more than ten years, Pollak has been studying how local housing policy decisions affect households and how communities can use their existing housing stock to create affordable housing units for the elderly. …