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.



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.



older womenThe Transition Network (TTN) is a national organization for women over the age of 50 who are dealing with transitions in their lives—career, life, health, housing and others. Because of the high cost of housing and the lack of affordable housing options in the Bay Area, the local chapter has implemented a new program: TTN-HOME—A Community for Senior Women Exploring Housing Options. This new program was developed from survey feedback provided by participants who attended meetings in 2013.

In association with the Brain Exchange, TTN-HOME focuses on older women who are interested in new housing options and who are eager to maximize their independence as they get older.

The TTN-HOME hub provides:

1) a central meeting ground for women to discover new ways of thinking about housing issues;
2) networking opportunities to connect with others who have similar housing concern
3) a venue for exploring specific housing options and resources;
4) and most importantly, support to one another in this new and uncharted territory critical to our age group.

During the next six months, women will be encouraged to bring housing related concerns for the group to process, using the brainstorming techniques developed by the Brain Exchange. At each meeting the group will process 4-6 questions. Questions have included:

1) How do I find housing right away in my specific geographic area?
2) How do I find a landlord who will be sympathetic to my desire to create an urban farm in the back yard?
3) How do I find a group of compatible women to share a large home?

After the group discussion women self-select the housing option they are most interested in—shared housing, co-housing, renting or buying property together or general options. Color coded name tags are provided so women with similar interests can easily identify and network with each other.

Plans are also being developed for quarterly half-day workshops that will explore different aspects of housing in more depth to help women become better informed about their options. This combination of brainstorming, networking and workshops will help women find they support they are looking for, begin serious exploration with others of like mind, get clarity on their next steps and share success stories.

Meetings are held at Finnish Hall in Berkeley on the fourth Thursday of each month.. For more information contact Arlene Reiff ( or visit the TTN website (

Joann Sullivan on February 10th, 2014

picnicThe Bay Area’s first senior co-housing project, Phoenix Commons, is now under construction along the Oakland-Alameda Estuary in the Jingletown neighborhood of Oakland. Ground was broken for the $21,000,000 project on January 9 and it will be completed in early 2015. There will be 41 units, about half one bedroom and half two bedroom units. Prices will range from $450,000-$630,000 with a monthly fee of $450. All individual residents and at least one member of a couple must be 58 years old.

summer_pictures_07_093Phoenix Commons is more than a building; it is also a senior community. Residents will own their condos and have access to more than 7000 square feet of additional common space. The building is designed to encourage interaction between the residents. They will have weekly meals together, go to movies and give each other rides to the doctor. The residents will also decide how to use the common space based on their own interests.

Co-housing was brought to the United States from Denmark in the 1980’s by Charles Durrett and Kathryn McCamant. There are 39 cohousing communities in California and 210 in the United States.

Phoenix Commons is being developed by the Zimmerman family from Alameda. Led by Chris Zimmerman, the family has been in the eldercare business for many years and own several facilities in Alameda. Although Phoenix Commons will be an independent living facility, it will be close to assisted living and skilled nursing facilities, if residents require that level of care.

Joann Sullivan on January 13th, 2014

vintage_dryer-BoyBecomeManI usually do my laundry in the morning.  I put a load in the washer and move it to the dryer when it is ready.  Frequently I turn the dryer on and leave for work, shopping or errands and come home to nice dry clothes.  My washer and dryer are relatively new.

A few weeks ago our daughter was home for the holidays.  I had just put a load of clothes into the dryer.   She came in and smelled smoke.  We all tried to figure out its source–it was coming from the dryer and it smelled terrible!  We turned the dryer off, but the clothes still smelled like smoke.

The repairperson came last week.  When he opened up the dryer, there was a lot of burned lint in the bottom.  It had been on fire!  There was also lint in every little nook and cranny.  I am really good about cleaning out the lint filter in the machine before I add a new load, but we had not cleaned out the vent pipes for over 14 years.   He also showed me the exit point for the pipe on the outside of the house—you could not feel any air coming through the pipe.  It was completely clogged with lint.

We were so lucky that we had been home when the fire occurred.  If it had happened when we were all away, our house could have burned down.  There are over 15,000 dryer fires in the U.S. each year.  I have read that dryer fires are the most prevalent cause of household fire.

Last weekend, my husband  and I went to the hardware store and bought a kit for cleaning out the existing vent pipe plus new replacement piping for the interior.  Our old system was long and twisted through the wall.  There were lots of places for lint to collect.  We replaced that with a very straight pipe that goes directly to the outside.  The lint cleaning kit includes a stiff brush about the diameter of the pipe, plus long extensions so you can get the brush way up into the pipe.  Some of the kits hook up to a drill.  We replaced the old pipe and cleaned out the existing pipe in a couple of hours.

Our plan is to clean out our vent pipes yearly.  Also, I am not going to leave clothes drying in the dryer when I leave the house anymore.  I hope that all of you will consider what you should do to reduce the chance of a dryer fire in your home.

Joann Sullivan on December 4th, 2013

Last spring I wrote about the revised Accessory Dwelling Unit ordinance which was presented to the City Council in April.  Click here to see the orginal article. I have had several phone calls and emails over the past few months from people interested in building these units in their back yards.

It is time to move on to the next step.  On December 18, a group of supporters of the ordinance are speaking to the City of Berkeley Planning Commission.  There are several homeowners who will either speak at the meeting or write to the Planning Commission.   Please contact me if you would like to do so.

I am very excited!  We are on the way to making Berkelely a national model for senior housing options.