Housing in Three Not-So-Easy Stages

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There is much discussion about housing projects in my city newspapers, web-sites, e-mails, public announcements, and meetings. This spate of publicity reveal s passionate opinions for and against whatever type of housing is being discussed. I can commiserate with people on various sides. I understand how people who have lived in neighborhoods for a long time want to keep things the same. There is something comfortingly familiar about surroundings that never change. Yet, I am very sympathetic with those who wish to increase density to accommodate the needs of people of multiple income levels and ages who want to stay or move here.

I write now specifically about housing for my age group – “seniors.” The current debates provide a great platform to raise the complexity of living choices among older residents like me. I have written before about my “should I stay or should I go” ruminations and the ultimate decision to go.

Basically, my experience fell into three not-so-easy stages: not knowing what to do; deciding to stay; and deciding to go. They were not sequential. My journey from staying to going was not a linear route. It had many digressions, convolutions, and reversals. I argued with myself – my house is really good for an older person with potentially one-floor living, small enough to maintain easily, walk to the village, the T, and Cold Spring Park. However, there was one old bathroom, washer and dryer in the basement, and ancient plumbing and electrical systems. In the winter snow was dumped on my corner reaching almost as high as my house making it impossible to clear a walking path.

At first, I decided to stay. I put on a small addition, added a bathroom, and washer/dryer hookup on the main floor. “Perfect!” I thought. Then reality happened. The main drain under the basement burst causing pipes to back up filling the air with putrid odors. I had to have the cement floor jack-hammered and the drain repaired at a cost of thousands of dollars. Two electrical boxes began to smoke within weeks of each other and the fire department came both times. Ice dams caused water to leak into my dining room requiring that the wall be torn down and replaced. Insurance covered that one. The idyllic plan for one-floor living in my house dissolved in light of the practicalities of maintenance.

The first two stages – not knowing and deciding to stay were characterized by an internal debate that went on for years. The third stage, the decision to move, was pretty easy once I realized its inevitability. The difficulty was finding either an apartment rental or a condo purchase. Either way the options were pretty slim. I wanted to stay in Newton because of family and community commitments, but I had to have something that was financially viable for me. I eliminated the idea of rental because I wanted to be free to create a space that would meet my particular needs and life-style. I was lucky to find a condo at a price I could afford by reinvesting the proceeds from the sale of my house which had increased in value since I had purchased it 25 years earlier. In my new place taxes and insurance were less, and condo fees were about the same, or lower, than what I was paying in home maintenance.

I learned during the three stages that deciding and acting on where to live is tough and that the options for me, and many people like me, were limited. There was, and still is, a dearth of housing available for people who want to live in Newton but can’t afford high market rates.

If you are older and thinking about your future you may find yourself in any or all of the three stages I experienced– wanting to stay in your house; wanting to move; or not knowing what to do. You are not alone. All of us must figure out how to negotiate each stage and determine what we need in order to realize our personal goals. If we want to stay in our houses, what will help us do that? If we want to move within Newton, how can we work to create reasonable options? If we don’t know what to do, what do we need to make a decision?

These are our challenges. They are not easy and are encumbered by our own histories and desires, along with the rules, regulations, and economics that prevent sensible options from occurring at all. This brings me back to the current debates about housing. Many seniors, like me, want to stay here because of personal history and deep relationships. If we are to realize this goal, housing must be available at costs we can afford and spaces we can occupy safely.

Right now I am settled until a change occurs when I will have to think again about the best place to live. I will probably go through the same challenging but necessary process – indecision, decision to stay, or decision to go that will carry me into the next phase of my life.


  1. kathryn j hallett

    January 23, 2016

    I am so aware that each step i take as I age has involved Moving to a place that makes more sense;
    but each step was so hard psychologically as i was saying good-bye to memories of that place – especially
    the family home but as time went on i was alone in this large home and really grew to dislike all the empty
    spaces so move I did; and, for five years i liked my condo and the ease of living in a place where there was
    more support -snow removal;,pool,people to walk with,etc. But, again, as i aged this was not right for me
    and I knew I had to move to a place that I would not be “Invisible” among all the people – a place where
    half the population is over 60 and so we have a bit more visability and there is respect for us. However,
    i now have to make new friends, and i am finding this difficult as everyone has lived here quite a while and
    clearly they don’t more friends! So, i know i will really have to put a lot of effort into this need of mine,and
    i don’t have that much energy to join places,etc. if the payoff is not going to be finding new friends. I am
    discouraged as though i meet many wonderful people they don’t share my interests and so i realize now
    i have moved into a community that is physical! I am not. I love theatre,arts,reading,music,but i only walk
    because my dog needs exercise! I am amazed that these woman at 78 are so physical frankly but i know
    its not me. Yes, i do find this stage of my life a shock. Suddenly my world has shrunk and it was always
    so full. In the past 5 years i have lost 22 people through death,etc. And while i should feel glad i am
    alive and well it is still a lonely place to be. All my siblings are now dead and all the “adult” kids have
    moved so far away (the recession has certainly caused them to move for jobs) but even so it is unrealistic
    to think we will get on planes very often and so i need to gather around me a few friends to be so that
    i have a chosen family here so to speak. It’s hard. I never knew it would be this hard and am now soj
    aware the marketing of Aging is deligihtful is just that MARKETING. I GUESS FOR THE BOOMERS
    because they believe it won’t be hard. And, imagine as we live this long money dwindles but we have
    had no interest on that money so that’s also a problem. My generation was taught to NEVER COMPLAIN
    and i wish the people i meet in my generation don”t. I know they have to have some feelings like I do,but
    everyone is stoic. So, i hope if you know someone who lives in Kirkwood,Missouri known as Mayberry
    and an exceptional place to raise kids – have them call me….thanks for listening,kathrynj

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About Marian

Marian Leah Knapp, Ph.D., wants to start a new conversation about “aging with intent.” Much of what is written about elders is from the point of view of physicians, psychiatrists, gerontologists, and adult children. In her roles as author, columnist, speaker and elder activist, Marian is reporting from the front lines.
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