Joann Sullivan on April 9th, 2015

group-of-multi-ethnic-seniorsTTN-HOME is partnering with Ashby Village for its new 3 month housing series–Aging in Place.   Almost everyone wants to age in place—whether it is in his/her/their own home or an apartment or rented house—for as long as possible. Our East Bay community is rich in resources and networks that are creating innovative alternatives and support systems for those who want to seek new ways of living independently or with others as we grow older.

coffee-table-chatWe are going to explore the many ways that people are finding to do this: sharing their home with others by renting out rooms or an apartment, downsizing to a smaller place, buying a house with others, building an Accessory Dwelling Unit in the back yard and others. We will look at safety concerns and making your home accessible as you age. We will discuss topics ranging from planning to support aging independently where you live now; finding alternative ways to age in your community; finding companionship by home sharing with others as well as what kind of housing agreements to put in place.

The meetings will be interactive and include panel discussions, speakers and time to connect with each other.

The monthly meetings will be held on April 25, May 23 and June 27 from 1:30-4:00 p.m. at the First Congregational Church in Oakland (2501 Harrison Street, Oakland, CA 94612). Parking is available at the church. The cost for the series is $45.00. Please RSVP to Lynn Richards,


Joann Sullivan on March 30th, 2015

thumbs-upAt the City Council meeting last Tuesday, the council made further revisions to the ADU Ordinance and voted UNANIMOUSLY to accept the revised ordinance.  (A unanimous vote by the Berkeley City Council is a rarity.)  The ordinance now goes back to staff for further review, but should be on the council agenda for final approval in the summer.


The council made further revisions which include:

  1. No minimum lot size;
  2. The ADU may be between 250 square feet and 750 square feet, not to exceed 75% of the area of the main dwelling. Both units may not exceed 40% coverage of the lot.
  3. ADUs may be on the property line in existing buildings (e.g. gaage);
  4. Tandem parking is allowed
on existing driveways, including the front yard setback;
  5. Parking waivers if within ¼ mile of a BART station and in an RPP zone;
  6. No short term rentals, at least one of the units must be owner occupied;
Joann Sullivan on March 22nd, 2015

backyard cotageThe revised Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) ordinance is coming before the Berkeley City Council on Tuesday, March 24 at  7:00 p.m.  If you support this ordinance, please show up and say a few words in its defense.

The revised ordinance before the council is a great improvement for homeowners.  The major provisions are:

1)   Minimum lot size is 3,800 square feet.

2)   The ADU may be between 250 square feet and 750 square feet, not to exceed 50% of the main dwelling.  Both units together may not exceed 40% coverage of the lot.

3)    The setbacks are a minimum 4 feet from the rear and side of the property line, unless the ADU is replacing preexisting buildings on the property line.  If ADU is built on property line, doors and windows cannot face neighbors’ property.

4)   Tandem parking is allowed 
if within 1⁄ 4 mile of BART station.  There will be no Residential Parking Permit issued to an ADU.

5)   Legal property owner shall live in either main dwelling unit or ADU.
 ADU is  excluded from use as short term rentals.

6)   ADUs are prohibited in the Environmental Safety Residential (ESR) zone.

The revised ordinance is a great improvement over the current ADU ordinance.  It is one of the most promising strategies available to increase the supply of housing in Berkeley without changing the character of our neighborhoods.  The ADUs tap into existing systems and cost a fraction of the cost of building a new house.  Many housing studies cite ADUs as essential to increasing the availability of senior housing.

ADUs are the best way to enable seniors to age in place in their homes or neighborhoods.  For seniors wanting to stay in their own homes, ADUs enable them to do so, with a place for family or caregivers to live nearby in a new backyard cottage or small “in-law” unit.  For seniors needing to move to a smaller accessible unit, ADUs allow them to stay on their property and in their neighborhood, avoiding the stress of moving.

Creating an ADU gives seniors many new options –

1)  rent the big house or the ADU, providing a source of income to support their caregiving needs;

2) live in the ADU and move family members or friends into the big house so they can help with caregiving;

3)  live in the main building and invite a caregiver to live in the ADU, possibly reducing the cost of care.

bycottage3ADUs offer safe, semi- independent, and inexpensive housing for elderly or disabled relatives, as well as returning adult children.  They are true life-cycle housing, supporting flexibility and family stability over time.



Joann Sullivan on January 12th, 2015

2015 is here. The silver tsunami continues to grow. Where are we all going to live? Lots of seniors cannot afford to stay in their homes or apartments when they retire. For many low income senior housing facilities, there is a five year waiting list.

There are several things that I am working on (with others) which will help relieve some of the housing problems.

JUNE 2014First is TTN-Home, A Community of Women over the age of 50 Exploring Housing Options. Our planning committee (Arlene Reiff, Lynn Richards, Mona Kreaden, Christine Olsen and me) is getting ready to start the new series. Beginning in January 2015, we will introduce a series of in-depth interactive workshops, designed to build cohorts of women interested in moving forward with their housing issues and concerns within a supportive environment.

The first series of workshops (January, February, and March) will focus on Shared Housing, which includes the options of two or more unrelated people renting or buying a house or apartment together.

The Shared Housing workshops will focus on the building blocks needed to work through the obstacles and issues, enabling participants to take specific steps toward achieving their goals. Part of the process is to enable participants to develop a network of like-minded women who might be interested in looking together at places to buy or rent and/or explore further sharing a home.

The dates of the workshops will be January 24, February 28 and March 28 at 1:30-4:00 in the New Oakland Room at the First Congregational Church, 2501 Harrison Street, Oakland.  The cost of the three part series is $45.00. Contact Arlene Reiff ( to reserve a place.

Second is the revised Accessory Dwelling Unit Ordinance for the City of Berkeley. Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) are self-contained smaller residential units built on the property of a single family home.  They may be attached (an above the garage unit or a basement unit) or detached  (granny flat, carriage flat, backyard cottage).

bycottage3ADUs enable communities to grow internally rather than externally, providing additional housing without consuming additional green space.  They limit suburban sprawl, provide new housing  and can help homeowners financially.  They enable seniors to remain in their own neighborhoods as they get older and help multigenerational families live close to one another, affordably and to provide support for young children and elderly family members.

The proposed ordinance is a great improvement over the previous one.  As proposed, it will include the following:

1)    ADU would be allowed in rear of parcel.  ADU allowed in front or side of parcel with Administrative Use Permit (AUP).

2)   The subject lot shall have an area not less than 4,500 square feet.  Lot size can be less than 4,500 square feet with an AUP.

3)   ADU cannot exceed 12 feet in average height (single story) and 640 square feet

4)   ADU with minimum of  4  feet rear and side setbacks.  Allow ADUs  less that 4 feet from property line with AUP.

5)   One additional off-street tandem parking space allowed.

6)   Eliminate parking requirements for an ADU consistent with the  following:  1) ADU is within 1/4 mile of a major transit line, transit hub or BART station, 2) ADU is within a Residential Parking Permit zone and 3) ADU would be prohibited from receiving Residential Parking Permits.

7)  Maximum size of ADU is 640 square feet with maximum lot coverage less than 40%.

8)   ADU can exceed 40% lot coverage (to a maximum of 55%) with an AUP.

9) Allow for expediting of building permits or over the counter permits if applicant chooses to pay for the expedited service.

Over the past couple of years, I have spoken with many Berkeley homeowners who are interested in building ADUs and look forward to the revised ordinance. This ordinance will come before the Berkeley City Council in February.

artist-at-burbank-colony Third is new senior housing in Berkeley.  Many months ago I wrote about the Burbank Senior Artists Colony which is the most exciting senior housing facility I have seen.  From the time I first learned about it, I felt that we needed a Senior Artists Colony in Berkeley. I could not decide how to proceed with this idea and one day wrote an email to the housing developer who built the Burbank project. A few weeks later, they responded and I spoke with the President of the company who told me that they would love to build a Senior Artists Colony in Berkeley. Now I am busy looking for land on which to build the facility and talking with artists and teachers who would be interested in teaching classes there. We are only in the very beginning stages, but I am looking forward to a wonderful new place for Berkeleyans to retire.  It will take at least five years to complete the project, but at lease we are getting started.  Where would you rather live? A senior housing facility or a senior artists colony?

Stay tuned.

Joann Sullivan on September 25th, 2014

arranging-flowers1One of the things that I have always liked about working with seniors is the other people who also work with seniors.  I have met so many dedicated and talented people over the years who are passionate about their work with seniors. In the last year, I have been impressed with the people who have been identifying unmet needs among their senior clients and patients and starting their own businesses to provide those needed services.

Elisa Reutinger has many years of marketing and activities programs in retirement communities. She has now formed her own company, Craft a-la-carte. She provides one-on-one 90 minute visits to her client’s homes and provides the inspiration, materials and know-how to help seniors with the arts project of their choice. The activities may include: sewing, embroidering, quilting, felting, dyeing fabrics, doll-making, painting, drawing, jewelry making, bookmaking and crafting with recycled materials. The first class is free. To find out about Elisa’s program, click here.

Elizabeth McDonald is a former realtor and business owner. She has always enjoyed working with seniors and formed her own Senior Concierge service, Thank Goodness. There is almost nothing that Elizabeth will not do for her clients:   housework, shopping, driving to appointments, cooking, organizing, helping with moves—anything to help older retired adults stay independent. Her goal is to “help my clients live full, fun, and active lives while fostering independence and dignity.” Click here to find out more about Thank Goodness Senior Concierge.

Two of my friends, Sandi Peters and Cait McWhir have joined with Jenette Northern and Odile Lavault to form Soul 2 Soul-Seniors which provides exceptional and unique services designed to nourish and sustain both the elder and their caregivers.

Sandi’s specialty is sand tray for elders. She uses a box of sand and numberous miniatures to access their inner worlds. She also uses poetry, storytelling, myths and discussion to help caregivers and their loved elder understand and explore the aging journey.

Cait specializes in massage for seniors.   This specialized form of massage is appropriate for many seniors. Deeply restorative and relaxing, it can significantly relieve aches, pains, and stiffness, as well as many health conditions associated with aging.

Jenette practices Jin Shin Jyutsu, anancient Japanese form of healing using light finger pressure on specific areas of the body, while fully clothed. The gentleness of this healing art brings relief from pain and theunpleasant symptoms that can accompany aging or disease.

Using the Validation Method, Odile gives caregivers the tools to change themselves so they can enter the personal reality of the person for whom they are caring.   With exercises and role-play, Odile teaches how to accept disoriented older people just the way they are in the moment, without trying to change them.

To learn more about the unique services of Soul2Soul-Seniors, go to their website.

In the recent Harvard/AARP Report on Senior Housing, the study concluded that, while there are significant challenges, the potential is there for older adults to have a higher quality of life than ever before and for communities to be more livable and vibrant as a result.  It is up to us who are senior service providers and seniors themselves to provide the impetus for improved service delivery.



Joann Sullivan on August 12th, 2014

beach ballI have a high school friend, Helen Thompson, who lives in Austin and writes a weekly blog about beautiful and unique houses. Her blog is called Helen Thompson In House. Over the years she has written about some very significant homes, mostly in Texas. Several years ago I told her that I thought she needed to write about some of the lovely universally designed houses that I have been seeing that are built for seniors to age in place.

Last week she did. She posted about an absolutely beautiful pre-fab house in the Sonoma Valley.  The architects are Jacob Levy and Gordon Stott of Connect Homes in Los Angeles.  Their client is the daughter of a nearly 90 year old mom who had been having some health issues and the daughter wanted to build a house for her mom on her land in Sonoma County. The house is larger than the Accessory Dwelling Units we see here in Berkeley, but offers lots of ideas for building an accessible dwelling for an elder.

manufactured-homes-factory-builtBuilding a pre-fab house is considerably less expensive than building a custom home and takes about one-third of the time.  These are very important considerations when building a home for a senior who may not be able to climb stairs anymore and needs a home soon that is accessible for them. Many of them do not need to spend two years working with an architect plus another year of construction before they can move in.  When buying a pre-fab house, you know up front how much it is going to cost and how long it will take to install. There are no unforeseen price increases, supply shortages or work delays.  The cost of the Sonoma house is $264,000.

The architects, Jacob Levy and Gordon Stott, are starting to build more accessible units in Northern Calfornia and have backyard models (600-900 square feet) as well as larger units like the 1600 square foot home featured in Helen’s article. The average cost for house in the airthe medium and large size units are about $165/square foot and includes all of the fixtures (lighting, cabinets, appliances, bathroom fixtures.)

The home was also featured in the June issue of Dwell.    In addition, Levy and Stott spoke at the Dwell on Design LA Conference in June 2014 and shared their thoughts on universal design and pre-fab houses.  Check out Helen’s blog, the Connect Homes website and the Dwell article for more photos of the house.  It is truly gorgeous!


Joann Sullivan on July 26th, 2014

JUNE 2014TTN-Home had its third meeting with its revised format earlier this week with almost fifty people attending the meeting.  If you are looking for creative housing options for seniors in the East Bay, this is the place to be!  TTN-Home is sponsored by the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of The Transition Network, a nationwide organization for women experiencing transition in their lives.

Besides the educational presentations and networking opportunities the attendees also receive emails from TTN-Home about housing vacancies, housing wanted and announcements of other housing events occurring in the Bay Area.

Two months ago, we had our first meeting using the new format.  I gave an in-depth talk on the Twelve Housing Options for Seniors in the Bay Area.  These options include:

Aging in Place Options

  1. Staying in your own home as homeowner
  2. Staying in your own home as a renter
  3. Downsizing to a smaller place (condo, coop, apartment or smaller house)
  4. Accessory Dwelling Unit in  your backyard or a friend’s or family member’s backyard

House Sharing Options

  1. Buying a house with others
  2. Sharing a rental with landlord present
  3. Sharing  a rental with no landlord present

Aging in Communities Options

  1. Multi-generational and Senior Co-Housing
  2. Limited Equity Housing Cooperative
  3. Pocket Neighborhood

Housing Facilities

  1. Affordable Senior Housing
  2. Community Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs)

JUNE 2014 IMG_0736At our second meeting,  we had a panel of people who live in:  affordable senior housing, a limited equity housing cooperative, a landlord who rents out rooms in her house and a woman who shares a rental with another woman.  They talked about their experiences in the various options they had chosen.

The third meeting featured a  panel with residents of:  a multigenerational co-housing project; a senior co-housing project, (Phoenix Commons), a Continuing Care Retirement Community and a pocket neighborhood.  Our plan for next month is to have an Aging in Place panel.  The final two meetings of the series will deal with financial issues.   We plan to repeat the series of six meetings, beginning in January.
JUNE 24 2014At the recent meetings,  attendees spent time determining which options would work the best for them and discussed their ideas and action plans with other attendees.  After the panel discussions, the panelists stayed for about thirty minutes to answer additional questions from members of the audience.

The feedback we have received is excellent, the audiences grow every month and lots of people are talking about what they need to do next to achieve their housing objectives.  The energy in the room is amazing.  We live in the most expensive housing market in the country.  We are making a real difference in helping people figure out how to navigate this very difficult market.

The TTN-Home planning committee consists of Mona Kreaden, Christine Olsen, Lynn Richards, Arlene Rieff and me.  We are very proud of the work that we have done and also the work that the attendees are doing to meet their housing objectives..

Joann Sullivan on July 17th, 2014

seniors-diverse-walkingYesterday I went to the Harborside Health Center in Oakland to learn how seniors can use cannabis to help with many of the medical problems that are common among them—chronic pain, arthritis, psoriasis, loss of appetite, insomnia, anxiety and depression. Sue Taylor, a Senior Wellness Advocate who serves on the Alameda County Commission on Aging, led the tour of the center.   She sees medical cannabis as a safe and effective alternative to pharmaceutical drugs that can have more serious side effects. She is committed to providing seniors information that will allow them to make an educated decision about the use of medical cannabis. For more information, go to her website.

We learned about the many forms of medical cannabis. There are forms used today that have reduced or eliminated the psychoactive effects of marijuana. Cultivators have developed and are now producing CBD (cannabinoid) genetic strains that have minimal psychoactive effects and are reported to be very effective in the treatment of arthritis, muscle spasms and nausea, among others. These include topical preparations (salves, sprays, and lotions) applied directly to the skin, sublingual sprays, drinks, sweet and savory edible products, capsules, tinctures and concentrates. You do not smoke these products and you will not get high from them. Seniors are the fastest growing population of new cannabis users.

There are ten things seniors should know about medical cannabis.

1)   Marijuana is safer than many commonly prescribed medications.

2)   Marijuana is not physically addictive.

3)   Marijuana can reduce and possibly replace many prescription medications.

4)   There are many different types or “strains” of marijuana.

5)   There are marijuana strains without “the high.”

6)   There are ways to use marijuana other than smoking it.

7)   Marijuana-induced ointments can be very effective in alleviating arthritis and neuropathy pain.

8)   Marijuana does not lower your IQ or cause brain damage.

9)   Marijuana can help increase your appetite. 1

0) The stigma around medical marijuana use is fading.

The staff at Harborside Health Center are very knowledgeable about the cannabis products. They have a laboratory on site to test for contaminants, amounts of CBDs, THC and other components so you know what you are buying.   The center itself is lovely. Security is very tight. You cannot use your cell phone in the center.   You must have a prescription for the product to enter unless you are on a tour with Sue Taylor like I did yesterday.   I went on the tour as a skeptic and would have been unlikely to recommend these products to others. Now I feel that medical cannabis can be successful in the treatment of many conditions and can be seen as an alternative to pharmaceutical products. Sue Taylor is committed to educating seniors about the benefits of medical cannabis.   She is a wonderful resource.

Joann Sullivan on July 3rd, 2014

Grandmother_holding_her_granddKathleen Pender’s article in the June 7 Sunday Chronicle was a real wake-up call.  About 50% of retirees will not have enough money to retire.  What are we going to do?  To keep working is one solution; another is to figure out ways to generate income other than working and to greatly reduce our expenses.  Most people who have lived and worked in the Bay Area for  awhile want to stay here.  Housing is a major expense.  If we can reduce our housing expenses, it will be much easier to retire here in the Bay Area.

A first thing to consider is how to reduce your mortgage expense.  You might want to refinance if your interest rate is higher than the current low rates or you  might  want to consider a reverse mortgage.

three ladies with bowl of fruitYou could rent out rooms in your house to generate extra income.  Another option would be to downsize to a smaller condominium or house or build an accessory dwelling unit in your back yard (or a friend or family member’s back yard) for you to live in while renting out the larger house.  Buying or renting a house with friends would be another way to reduce expenses.  Dividing the cost of a mortgage and other housing costs would be a great savings here in the Bay Area.


Affordable senior housing is also available, but you need to plan ahead to be sure you will be able to move when you need to.  Most facilities have waiting lists or have closed their waiting lists.  For the HUD subsidized senior buildings, maximum income limits are $31,250 for 1 person and $35,700 for 2 people.  The Alameda County Senior Housing Guide lists all of the facilities in the county and you can call 2-1-1 for information on current vacancies.

The good news is that we are very fortunate to live here in the Bay Area and the bad news is that it is a very expensive place to live.  There are options available and it would behoove us to consider all of our options.

The articles about real estate that we read in the newspaper, magazines and on-line generally are not relevant to our East Bay communities. We did not experience the large numbers of foreclosures and property devaluations that occurred in the rest of the country. Many of our neighborhoods have maintained their values well although very few properties have been coming on the market in the last 2-3 years.   Each spring I take a closer look at MLS statistics  to get a better idea about what is actually going on here in our East Bay real estate market .

Click on the Real Estate tab at the top of this page to see the actual data I compiled of sales of single family homes and condominiums in several East Bay communities and neighborhoods in the first quarters of 2013 and 2014.  If you are receiving this post as an email, click here for the data tables.

Generally, supply in the East Bay is still down and the demand continue to rise.  Except for Piedmont and the Oakland zip codes of 94610 and 94602, inventory decreased from the first quarter of 2013 to the first quarter of 2014 in all neighborhoods.  Berkeley showed the lowest decline (8.2%) and Rockridge the greatest decline (44.0%).   Except for Oakland 94609 and Rockridge which had price declines, all neighborhoods showed significant price increases between the first quarters of 2013 and 2014.  Berkeley showed the greatest price increase (19.0%), followed by Oakland 94610 at 15%.   Condominiums in all areas are doing well; the average prices in all areas increased during the time periods.  

Many sellers receive multiple offers for their properties and buyers are writing many offers before they purchase a home. In 2013, 98% of the sellers in California received multiple offers and the average buyer wrote 5.9 offers before getting one accepted. Of the sellers receiving multiple offers, 77% chose the highest offer, 47% chose the best qualified buyer, 39% took the offer without contingencies and 14% took the offer with the shortest close.

The current marketing strategy is to list properties about 25% below what the property is expected to bring and this has proven to be a very successful strategy for sellers.  Buyers are having a very difficult time. Many are being over-bid time after time. We also have many buyers coming across the bay from San Francisco because they have been priced out of the market there. These buyers think our East Bay listings are bargains compared to what they can get in the city so they are also competing with East Bay buyers.  Many of the properties on the market are going to them.

In the last few weeks, the Piedmont market has mushroomed. It is our most expensive neighborhood and sellers there have been holding on to their properties for many years. From the first quarter of 2013 to the first quarter of 2014, the number of properties on the market is up 13% and the average sales price is also up 13.3%.  In Piedmont there are currently 17 active listings and 14 have recently sold. Last weekend six new properties came on the market.

I think that sellers in other parts of the East Bay are also realizing that they have waited long enough.  This is what our market needs.   We should see a significant increase in the number of properties coming on the market in the next few months.  Combined with the historically low interest rates, there should be lots of new homeowners in the East Bay.