Groups aim for hous­ing at any age

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - DAN HOLT­MEYER

FAYETTEVILLE — Carol Gaet­jens, a re­tiree who uses a wheel­chair be­cause of mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis, spent al­most a year search­ing for an ac­ces­si­ble apart­ment or home, with nearly all the choices taken or with sev­eral steps at the front door.

Last month she bought a home three decades old, and she’s been adding ramps to every door, widen­ing the doors and low­er­ing the coun­ters, all while try­ing not to make it look too much like a hospi­tal. She knows the mod­i­fi­ca­tions could help al­most any­one who lives there; at her old church in Chicago, a door ramp helped a dis­abled vet­eran, moth­ers with strollers and able-bod­ied de­liv­ery men.

“That’s what univer­sal design means,” Gaet­jens said.

Wash­ing­ton County’s League of Women Vot­ers, AARP Ar­kan­sas and oth­ers held a pub­lic panel Thurs­day evening on how to spread the same kind of hous­ing design through­out the city and even­tu­ally the North­west Ar­kan­sas metropoli­tan area. A grow­ing and ag­ing pop­u­la­tion needs more af­ford­able apart­ments and homes ready

for needs such as Gaet­jens’ and can be lived in through­out peo­ple’s lives, they told a crowd of about 100 peo­ple at St. Paul’s Epis­co­pal Church.

The dis­cus­sion con­tin­ues this morn­ing at the Fayetteville Pub­lic Li­brary, where the panel hopes to gather in­ter­ested peo­ple, de­vel­op­ers, Real­tors, city of­fi­cials and other groups in the ef­fort.

“We def­i­nitely have room for im­prove­ment, and I’m go­ing to tell you, we’re go­ing to get there,” Mayor Lioneld Jor­dan told the crowd, adding ac­com­mo­dat­ing peo­ple of all ages and abil­i­ties is one of his pri­or­i­ties.

Al­most 88,000 peo­ple in the Fayetteville-Spring­dale-Rogers metropoli­tan sta­tis­ti­cal area were at least 60 years old in 2015, ac­cord­ing to Cen­sus es­ti­mates, or about one in six peo­ple over­all. That num­ber’s only ex­pected to go up as suc­ces­sive gen­er­a­tions age and live longer.

Most peo­ple that age

want to stay in their homes, ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey of about 700 Fayetteville res­i­dents who were mostly 50 years old or older, said Alishia Fer­gu­son, an as­sis­tant dean and as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor in so­cial work at the Univer­sity of Ar­kan­sas. She and Jean Henry, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of com­mu­nity health pro­mo­tion, have been work­ing since 2013 to as­sess the needs of Fayetteville’s older peo­ple.

Many peo­ple in that cat­e­gory ei­ther are like Gaet­jens, deal­ing with houses not built with them in mind, or can’t af­ford the hous­ing op­tions they need, the pro­fes­sors said.

Al­most one in four of the re­gion’s hun­dreds of peo­ple with no home at any given time are at least 55 years old, ac­cord­ing to the 2015 home­less count done by the univer­sity’s Com­mu­nity and Fam­ily In­sti­tute.

“The need right now is far out­pac­ing the sup­ply” of ac­ces­si­ble hous­ing at a va­ri­ety of cost lev­els that also doesn’t seg­re­gate older adults from the rest of the com­mu­nity, said Jen­nifer Webb, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of in­te­rior design.

The Rogue Val­ley re­gion of south­ern Ore­gon shows one way to fix the prob­lem, said Con­nie Sal­dana, a plan­ner at the Rogue Val­ley Coun­cil of Gov­ern­ments Se­nior

and Dis­abil­ity Ser­vices who spoke at Thurs­day’s event.

Start­ing in 2011 the or­ga­ni­za­tion worked with builders, peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties and oth­ers to put to­gether vol­un­tary life­long hous­ing stan­dards. Homes can be cer­ti­fied as ac­ces­si­ble to vis­i­tors or res­i­dents de­pend­ing on their door di­men­sions, reach­able out­lets and switches, and rooms with enough room to move a wheel­chair.

The changes cost al­most noth­ing if a house is built with them, Sal­dana said, and even re­mod­el­ing cost­ing

thou­sands of dol­lars can be less ex­pen­sive than as­sisted living cost­ing a com­pa­ra­ble amount every month. Mean­while, the de­mand for those houses will only grow.

“When buy­ers see an ac­ces­si­ble home, they go, ‘Why not?’” Sal­dana said, em­pha­siz­ing the last two words with her hands. “There’s no draw­backs.”

Beth Barham, an or­ga­nizer of the event with the voter league, said the group wants to help cre­ate the same sort of sys­tem, with Fayetteville as “the flag in the sand” to get the con­cept rolling be­fore spread­ing out­ward to the area’s other cities and towns.

“It takes a lit­tle time for the mo­men­tum to get there,” she said.

Gaet­jens said she’s hope­ful for the prospect and would be happy to see a city stan­dard call­ing for at least one ac­ces­si­ble en­trance and bath­room in new build­ings.

“We’ll see who the stake­hold­ers are and if they come to­gether,” she said.

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