Joann Sullivan on May 16th, 2016








This is Affordable Housing Week in the East Bay region. The East Bay Housing Organization is sponsoring several events around the area. I know what you are thinking—Affordable housing in the East Bay? You have got to be kidding. This is the most expensive housing market in the country.

But there are ways you can reduce your housing costs. How about shared housing? You could rent out rooms in your house to tenants or you could share your house with a housemate. You could go together with friends to buy or rent a house together.

You could build an Accessory Dwelling Unit in your backyard and rent it to a friend or family member. You could move into it yourself and rent out your main house. You could have a caregiver live there. Some cities in the East Bay (Berkeley, Oakland, Redwood City and San Francisco) have recently made it a lot easier for homesellers to build ADUs. Today the state legislature is voting on legislation making it easier for homeowners to build ADUs within the walls of their homes. The cities and state know that easing the process for homeowners to build infill housing will help relieve the housing crisis in our state.

You could sell your house and downsize to a condo or coop apartment. This could reduce your housing costs, reduce the amount of maintenance required for a house and free up time for travel and other activities. Some of the affordable coop options for seniors in the East Bay include Rossmoor and Berkeley Town House. If you move outside of the immediate area, you can find coop mobile home parks for those over the age of 55 years.

You could also start researching affordable senior housing facilities. This is a long term project. Many people are on waiting lists for up to five years.. Start with the Alameda County Senior Housing Guide.

Let me know if you have other ideas for helping to make housing more affordable in our region.

Joann Sullivan on May 8th, 2016

Click here for a video about Flossie Lewis, a 91 year old resident of Piedmont Gardens in Oakland.  Ms. Lewis is a good friend of my friend Lloyd who had been telling me about her for years.  It is so great to hear her secrets of growing older.



Joann Sullivan on April 22nd, 2016

senior-citizens-talkingI just finished reading Beth Baker’s With a Little Help from our Friends. This book is great for anyone interested in and considering alternative housing options as they get older.   Like Ms. Baker says, what everyone wants to do is to age in community. That is what this book is about. She presents lots of options:


1) *Villages (like Ashby Village and North Oakland Village)

2) *Co-Housing (like Phoenix Commons, the new senior co-housing community)

3) *Cooperative Apartments (like Berkeley Town House) and Mobile Home Parks

4) Naturally Occurring Retirement Centers (NORCs)

5) Community without Walls

6) Generations of Hope

7) *Affinity Groups (like the Burbank Senior Artist Colony)

8) *House-sharing

9) *Multi-generational Housing

10) *Universally designed Homes

11) *Assisted Living with Technology

If you have been reading East Bay Smart Senior, I am sure you recognize many of these options.   I indicated the options that I have written about with an asterisk.  If you want more information, enter the option in the Search box at the top left of the blog and you can look up the articles in the archives section.

Some of the examples of community living are new, though.

srs on the roadEscapee Cares is a retirement community for RV enthusiasts who can no longer drive around the country because they cannot take care of themselves or their spouse’s needs following an illness, injury, surgery or the progression of a long term health condition. The RVers drive to Escapees CARE (Continuing Assistance for Retired Escapees) in Livingston, Texas where they can continue to live in their RVs and receive assisted living services like meals, transportation, housekeeping and laundry.   In 2012, the cost was $849 per month at Escapees CARE compared to $3550 per month, the national average cost for assisted living.

According to AARP, the sense of community at Escapees CARE is striking. RVers are special people (there are over 25,000 nomadic retirees living in RVs in the United States) and they established this center to care for their own.   Donations from members make up about half of the operational budget and volunteers keep the costs down.

1355358869-hope_meadows-2_srs_and_6yoAnother community, Hope Meadows is the brainchild of Brenda Eheart. This community was built on an abandoned air force base in Rantoul, Illinois in 1994. This site houses pre-adoptive families, foster children and elderly volunteers who help the families with childcare, tutoring and other projects in exchange for reduced rent in the community.   Other communities have been built on the same model and center around different vulnerable populations: disabled veterans, young mothers coming out of prison and adults with developmental disabilities and their caregivers. There are plans to build an intergenerational community around elders with dementia and their caregivers.

Both of these communities represent the development of a special community to fit the needs of seniors looking for very specialized communities.  They make me think that anything is possible if we can just figure out how we want to live our later years.

Joann Sullivan on March 7th, 2016

smiling-seniors-75white househouse in the air

A few months ago the American Society on Aging invited me to write an article on my favorite topic–Housing Options for Seniors.  The article appeared in a special housing issue of Aging Today which appeared in November 2015.

Wanted: safe, affordable— and pragmatic—housing options for older adults

By Joann Sullivan

Everyone needs a place to live. Though many retirees face housing costs they cannot afford, there are many options available.  
I am a realtor in Berkeley, Calif., and specialize in working with older adult homebuyers and sellers. Previously I was an administrator in a geriatrics clinic and have many years of experience working with elders. Though I no longer work with older adults in the healthcare setting, I now help them with their housing issues.

Help with the High Costs of Housing

A few years ago, I started working with The Transition Network , a national organization for professional women older than 50 who are experiencing transition in their lives. The local TTN chapter decided to focus on housing, a critical issue for older women in the San Francisco Bay Area, where supply is low and costs are the highest in the nation. The median cost of a two-bedroom, one-bath home in Berkeley is $969,000; in San Francisco it is $1,076,000. Median rents are comparably high: $3,849 for a two-bedroom apartment in the East Bay and $4,225 in San Francisco. In response, we formed TTN- HOME.

Remarkably, almost everyone (90 percent of Americans, according to AARP) prefers to age in place. But the participants in our TTN-HOME groups tell us they want to age in community with myriad opportunities for interaction and support.

One of TTN-HOME’s first projects was to identify the 12 housing options for older adults.  We categorized them into four groups: Aging in Place; Shared Housing; Aging in Com- munity; and Institutional Housing.

Twelve Housing Options for Older Adults

  1. Aging in place in your own home

  2. Aging in place in a rental
  3. Downsizing to a smaller house/condo/co-op/apartment
  4. Accessory Dwelling Units (and Tiny Houses)
  5. Sharing your home with others
  6. Buying or renting a house together
  7. Sharing a rented house with a landlord
  8. Pocket neighborhoods
  9. Co-housing (senior or multi-generational)
  10. Housing cooperatives (including limited equity)
  11. Affordable senior housing
  12. Retirement communities

Options for Sharing a Home  An excellent option for older adult home- owners looking to age in community is to share their homes. TTN-HOME has been working with our local Villages—Ashby Village in Berkeley and Next Village in San Francisco—to introduce the concept of home-sharing as a way for members to age in their own homes. In my Berkeley neighborhood, an elderly homeowner rents two 500-square-foot units in her house for $2,000 per month. She enjoys the security and companionship of having other people in her house, and the extra income.

Home-sharing is also catching on in other parts of the country. The University of Michigan, realizing the many advantages for its retirees, has established a HomeShare  program as part of its Senior Housing Bureau to help match homeowners with potential renters. And the Los Angeles County HomeShare program matches homeowners older than age 55 with potential renters.

Buying a home together is another option. In My House, Our House, authors Karen Bush, Louise Machinist and Jean McQuillin describe setting up their cooperative household:

“We devised our own way to live economically, reaping rich advantages: savings in money, time, labor and environmental impact. We created a small community that is also rich in mutual support and fun. . . .  we enhanced each member’s lifestyle, at the same time protecting privacy and independence.”

Their experiment was so successful that two of the authors of the book have recently bought their second home together—a condominium in Florida.

Pocket Neighborhoods
and Accessory Dwellings
 For many, a good option is moving to a pocket neighborhood, a style of housing that fosters a strong sense of community among near- by neighbors, while preserving the need for privacy. Often, pocket neighborhoods are grouped around a courtyard or common garden, designed to promote a close-knit sense of community and neighborliness with an increased level of contact among residents.

In Berkeley and Oakland we have many bungalow courts built in the 1920s, cul- de-sacs or neighborhoods built around parks that function as pocket neighbor- hoods. Similar communities exist in many condominium associations, houseboat marinas and some established neighborhoods.

But not every neighborhood or condominium complex is a thriving pocket neighborhood. It is important to assess the neighborhood’s culture and the people who live there, and whether there are regularly scheduled social events and community projects.

Another option is the Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) , a smaller self-contained unit located on the same property as a single family home. ADUs enable older adults to stay in their neighborhoods as they age, with the sup- port of a caregiver or family member or the income of a tenant (to help with the costs of aging). Many cities, including Berkeley , are looling at ADUs as a way to increase density, enable multi-generational families to live together and allow older adults to age in their own neighborhoods.

An important consideration for elders is the unit’s long-term accessibility. Building wider doorways, varied height countertops and no-step thresholds will save on costly modifications later. The Inspired In-Law, designed by Larson Shores Architects in Oakland is the only accessible unit that I’ve heard of. These units range from 465 to 765 square feet, and start at $225,000 for a complete dwelling installed on the homeowner’s property. The advantage of these pre-fabricated units is that buyers know up front how much it will cost and how long it will take to construct.

Tiny Houses Offer
Freedom, Flexibility
  Tiny Houses  are the newest option. Officially defined as less than 1,000 square feet, many are be- tween 100 and 400 square feet. Forty per- cent of Tiny Homeowners are older than age 55, and 68 percent do not have a mort- gage. Tiny Houses are less expensive to build and maintain than conventional structures and allow for more freedom and flexibility. Many are quite elaborate. The cost of an average Tiny Home is $200–$400 per square foot, compared to median prices of $688 per square foot in Berkeley and $954 per square foot in San Francisco for regular houses. Many Tiny Homes are built on wheels and can be moved from place to place.

There are disadvantages (e.g., intense downsizing is required), but the biggest obstacle is where to put your Tiny House. If the home is built on a foundation in the homeowner’s (or a friend’s) backyard, it is like an ADU. Those units might be able to use the utility resources of the primary dwelling.

But the mobile Tiny Houses are more like recreational vehicles and are subject to the same zoning requirements. They can be parked in an RV or mobile home park where utility connections are available. Some cities have regulations about the length of time an RV can be parked on the street.

If people are thinking about a Tiny House, these are important considerations. They might want to visit The Caravan Motor Hotel in Portland, Ore., the first Tiny House motel in the country, before making a decision.

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.