Joann Sullivan on December 7th, 2015

Last week I presented at the Bay Area 4th Senior Health Policy Forum on Housing Options for Seniors.  We all know that where you live has a major impact on the quality of your life.  I presented  several options that seniors might want to consider if they want to age in place.  One of the options is shared housing which can take several forms including renting out a room in your house or buying or renting a house together with friends.  This video describes the experience of three women in Pennsylvania who bought a house together.  Ten years later, their experience was so positive that two of them are now sharing a second home in Florida.
Joann Sullivan on November 4th, 2015

smiling-seniors-75TTN-HOME in collaboration with Ashby Village completed its 2015 series last Saturday with a workshop on Retirement Communities and Affordable Senior Housing. Kerry Moon of Excetional Senior Placement spoke about the different types of retirement communities, how much they cost and what types of options will be available in the future.

We tried really hard to find a speaker on affordable housing from one of the developers, management companies and county agencies. No one was available. (I think this indicates a severe crisis in affordable senior housing.) By default I was the presenter. This is what I learned:

  1. If you are looking for housing in Alameda County, the Senior Housing Guide will become your bible. It gives basic information on all of the facilities in the county. The most recent guide available on-line is the 2014
  2. Getting into affordable senior housing is a long term plan. It can take up to five years to get to the top of the waiting list in the facility you want. Do not expect anything to happen fast.
  3. Do not apply to only one facility. Identify as many potential facilities as you can. Check out the neighborhoods where they are located, talk to the residents, talk to your friends and find out what they know about the different places. Some of them are very nice, others not so nice.
  4. Also contact the developers and management companies. In Berkeley, the main developers are Satellite Affordable Homes and Resources for Community Development.  They can tell you if there are any new facilities opening up in the near future. This is your best chance for getting into a facility. Established facilities have very few openings—only when someone moves out or passes away. New facilities will have a much larger initial availability which you might be able to take advantage of. There also may be lotteries for some buildings which you will need to apply for so you can get on their waiting list.
  5. Be systematic about your applications. Compile a file with all of the information you will need: names and addresses of former landlords (up to ten years), employers and personal references. Collect all of your financial information. You will need three years of tax returns and W-2 forms, two months of pay stubs, checking and savings statements. Keep all of this current so that you are ready when you decide to submit an application to one or more facility.
  6. Write a letter stating why you would be a good tenant and an asset to the facility. You will need to send this in with your applications.
  7. Check the website of the particular cities that you are interested in so you will be aware of any upcoming events (like affordable housing workshops), openings of new facilities, announcements of Below Market Rate lotteries and other opportunities.
  8. After you submit an application, keep in touch every few months with the building manager to remind them that you are interested in living in the building. This is particularly important if your contact information changes.
  9. Keep copies of all of your correspondence.

Good luck!

Joann Sullivan on August 1st, 2015

presley-tiny-houseMany retirees decide to downsize as they get older. Getting rid of their stuff makes them feel freer and less tied down to their stuff with more time for all of they things they want to do in retirement.   For many, it is less expensive to live in a smaller house or condo. A growing number of seniors are downsizing to a Tiny House.

Tiny Houses are defined as being less than 1000 square feet, but many of them are between 100 and 300 square feet.  The houses are available everywhere. They can be purchased as modular packages which are assembled  on site or as plans which can be built by the homeowner’s own contractors.  With modular or pre-fab units, the homeowner knows up front how long it will take and how much it will cost.

Tumbleweed Tiny Houses is holding a workshop on building tiny houses in Berkeley on August 8-9.  There are also many people converting cargo containers into livable spaces.  The only limitation is your own imagination.

cargocontainer house


white house







Forty percent of the tiny houses are purchased or built by seniors. It is important for elderly tiny home owners to consider the changes which may be required in their living space as they age.

w384x256The modular Inspired In-law units from Larson Shores Architecture in Oakland are designed to meet these needs.   The units range from 465 to  538 square feet.   They are all one bedroom units and are completely accessible.




Why would anyone want to live in a Tiny House?

 Save money: The costs of building or buying a home, utilities, taxes, and maintenance all decrease . Sixty-eight percent of tiny-house dwellers have no mortgage.

 Environmental: A tiny house has a smaller footprint. It uses less energy, water and other natural resources. Many of them are built with sustainable materials.

More freedom: If you have fewer possessions to maintain and more free time there is more time to spend on the reasons seniors retire in the first place—hobbies, exercise, traveling, hanging out with friends, etc.

 Mobility: Many of the tiny homes are on wheels. If you decide to move closer to family or friends, just move your tiny house to the new location.  Mobility of the units also has downsides.  If the unit is built on wheels it may be registered through the DMV as an RV or mobile home, which have different zoning regulations.

Some of the considerations are:

Zoning and code regulations: In many locations, there are issues about zoning and building codes, but with Berkeley’s new ADU ordinance effective August 19, 2015, it will be a lot easier than before to build a small backyard unit up to 750 square feet. Click here for the full Berkeley ordinance. If you do not live in Berkeley, check with your local building department to find out their requirements.

Lifestyle changes: Not everyone is ready to downsize as much as necessary to live in a tiny house. For some, the space may seem too claustrophobic.

If you would like to try it, you can rent a tiny house at Caravan Hotel in Portland, the first tiny house hotel in the country.


Joann Sullivan on July 23rd, 2015

older womenIt seems that as people get older, they are all looking for community. Some are looking for a family community where they can be close to their children and grandchildren. Others are looking for intentional communities like co-housing. Many people are looking for pocket neighborhoods or communities of like-minded residents. Some are looking for a senior housing community like the Burbank Senior Artists Colony.

In the last two TTN-HOME series, we have explored Shared Housing and Aging in Place, the latter in conjunction with   Ashby Village.

iStock_000003250093XSmallOn August 22, TTN-Home will start its new series “Aging in Community,” once again in collaboration with Ashby Village. During the next three months, we will hear from people living in a pocket neighborhood and two women who are buying into an apartment complex which will eventually become a condominium complex with all tenants owning their own units. We will also hear from a group buying into a limited equity cooperative and residents of Phoenix Commons, a new senior co-housing community on the Alameda/Oakland border. Participants will also learn about apartments in senior housing facilities and about the different types of retirement communities.

Throughout the entire series, there will be lots of opportunities for participants to get to know each other and to explore the possibilities of community living. For more information, contact the San Francisco chapter of The Transition Network at or Lynn Richards at

Joann Sullivan on June 15th, 2015

pat abd shirleyI have been writing and talking about Ashby Village for over seven years. From the beginning, I thought the village movement (beginning with Beacon Hill Village)  was the best idea  for helping elders stay in their own homes as they aged. It takes a village to raise a child; it takes a village to care for its elders.  Shirley Haberfield and Pat Sussman were the founding mothers for Ashby Village.  They did such a great job of laying the groundwork for the development of our village.  We met monthly for years planning how we wanted our village to work.

Yesterday Ashby Village celebrated its Fifth Anniversary with a Town Hall meeting. Over 100 people attended. I have always felt that the people I met through Ashby Village are the nicest and most interesting people I know.  It launched with 85 members and today is the fastest growing village in the country.  Ashby  Village now  has over 330 members and 345 volunteers, with members range in age from 56 years to 102 years. There are over 20 volunteer committees, from social services to home safety to neighborhood groups.  There are several social events each week, many revolving around food.   Judy Boe and I are in charge of the Preferred Providers Team and have put together a list of vetted providers so that when members call in, needing help with almost anything, the Ashby Village staff have a vetted provider to refer them to.

There are now villages in most communities in the Bay Area and the movement is spreading throughout the state and nation. Ashby Village is working with San Francisco Village to establish a California coalition of villages.

Happy Anniversary Ashby Village!



Joann Sullivan on June 9th, 2015

Three-Generations old timersSeveral years ago I worked with a young family whose dream was to develop a multigenerational compound which would house their immediate family plus their extended family in close proximity. We found a small house (900 square feet) on a large lot (16,000 square feet) in El Cerrito which had great potential. Their plan was to live in the small house and develop the additional land so that their mother, father, step-father, sisters and others could join them.


It has taken several years, but the main multigenerational house is now in construction. The four member family will share a new house with the husband’s mom and her new husband. They will rent out the original small house to a sister and the grandpa will live in another building on the property. They will still have an amazing back yard for soccer and other activities. For more information about the design and construction of their home, click here.


I am so proud to have been a part of this endeavor. We looked for the property for about six months. It has taken awhile for them to develop plans and begin construction, but it should be finished by the end of the year.


new timersIn the United States, 5.6 % of the population lives in multigenerational housing situations. In the Bay Area and much of California, the rate is 5.7%-10.3%.   As house prices continue to go up and stresses on families continue to increase, multigenerational housing offers great potential.   Grandparents can help with child care, kids will know their extended families and families can help care for the elders. This is the way families lived for generations.   The housing crisis in the Bay Area is providing the stimulus for families to return to solutions which worked before.


Joann Sullivan on June 1st, 2015

lady with computerEarlier this week I went to the Institute on Aging’s conference, “Big Ideas, Good Work!” This conference was described as “a day-long aging and technology conference addressing how elders, caregivers and senior services are influencing and inventing thoughtful technologies. “ I was excited about going to the conference because I wanted to learn about new devices to help with aging in place.


There were some well-known presenters– Steven Johnson, the co-founder of Aging 2.0 , David Lindeman, the Director of Health for the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) and Ann Hinton, Director of Aging and Adult Services. We also heard from several inventors and designers—Jack Lloyd, the inventor of a new home sensor system called SafeInHome, Richard Caro, the co-founder of Tech-enhanced Life and Barbara Beskind, a 91 year old occupational therapist and tech designer for IDEO.

I was disappointed to learn that many of the new technologies are surveillance systems designed to monitor elders who are living alone. Sensors are set up all over the house to keep an eye on mom and dad to make sure that they take their medicine, don’t leave the burner on in the kitchen, go to the bathroom the right number of times, and make sure they keep moving from one room to the next and don’t fall, etc.   These activities are reported to the adult children or caregivers on their smart phones.   These monitoring devices are important, but they don’t do a lot to improve the elder’s quality of life.


pink shirt and computerI was most heartened to hear from Richard Caro that he has formed groups of elders all over the Bay Area to review the new technological products that are being developed and to recommend technologies which will help them in their daily living. These groups are called circles or salons. Whereas many of the high tech companies are interested in surveillance systems, elders are interested in better ways to get tight lids off of jars.


One woman who had enjoyed hiking when she was younger wanted to develop a walker that she could use on hiking trails. She found an engineer who helped her with the design. Circle members are trying it out and providing input to help make it better. I think that the circles and salons will be important in the coming years as we continue to explore new technologies to help us as we get older.

NordicWalking_-1080x810One thing I decided at the conference is that I will never use a walker.  Barbara Beskind from IDEO walked to the podium using ski poles which she had modified to be more like walking sticks.  She told us that elderly people who use walkers  have to hunch over when they are walking and this is detrimental to their posture. Pretty soon they cannot straighten up. The walker may prevent them from falling down, but it does nothing to improve their balance. With walking sticks, you stand up straight and swing your arms naturally as you walk.   Thank you, Barbara.

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.