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.