A conversation with Sue Ballou, Board of Directors,
Partnership for Age-Friendly Communities
PAFC’s Housing Priority Group is partnering with CSU’s Institute for the Built Environment to develop a Lifelong Housing certification program. Sue Ballou is co-chair of the Housing Priority Group and a member of PAFC’s board of directors. This is an edited excerpt of our conversation.
What was the genesis of the Lifelong Housing certification program?
In about 2013, we had a stakeholders’ meeting that brought together people from throughout the community to talk about issues on aging. There were people from housing authorities, developers, people representing the Northern Colorado Builders’ Association, Realtors, government people and members of the community all coming together to say how can we best address housing.
The thing that came up across the board was a desire for choices. People don’t want to be pigeonholed into one way you’re “supposed” to age.
So Lifelong Housing is a strategy for promoting choice?
That’s one way to look at it. It would be a certification that developers and builders and Realtors could use to define accessible housing. You could maybe get different levels of certification, depending on the level of accessibility.
And it’s akin to a LEED sort of thing?
What are the criteria?
They’re still being developed. Possibly zero-step entries, wider doors, lever door handles – things that work for all ages. Remember, the certification is “lifelong housing” – not aging in place. We don’t even us the term “aging in place,” we talk about “aging in community.” Because the things that are important are being able to see the people you care about, shop at the places you like to shop, have the services you like to have. It doesn’t necessarily mean staying in the same house. But it does mean being able to access all the stuff that you have always enjoyed.
We’re also saying that, in a lot of ways, what works for older adults works for everybody. If you make curb cuts and street crossings, they may work for somebody who’s pushing a walker, but they also work for somebody who’s pushing a stroller.
Is there a model for this that you can follow?
A lot of people across the country are looking at it, but we started a little bit ahead. We’re hoping to pilot it in Larimer County and other parts of Colorado, then take it nationwide.
Coming back to choices: What are some of the other projects PAFC is working on to promote options for senior housing?
Loveland Housing Authority built a fabulous community which is all-income, Mirasol [Senior Community]. It has patio homes, apartments, and even the first Green House homes in Colorado.
And a Green House home is . . .?
It’s an assisted living facility with a very personal level of attention. There are 10 people in a house, each person has their own room, there’s a communal living room and dining room, there’s a very high ratio of staff to residents. Loveland had the first, and the only other one in Colorado is in Akron [in Washington County].
So now you’ve told me two instances where Northern Colorado is ahead of the curve: Green House homes and Lifelong Home certification. Why is this region so open to trying these new ideas?
I’ve heard over and over again that Northern Colorado has a very cooperative air about it. There’s competition among nonprofits for funding, but we tend to work together. We started really with no money, but with a lot of people who came together and said, “This is what we’re going to do. Let’s get this done.” When you bring people together who are all looking at housing and aging from different perspectives, you can break down barriers and come up with great ideas.
What’s your biggest worry?
Affordability. Something like 40 percent of people over 55 have less than $50,000 saved. That’s pretty frightening. Because what are we going to do if we have all these people who can’t afford to live anywhere?
Visit www.nocostyle.com for the full Q&A.
Go to www.pafclarimer.org/housing-1 to learn about PAFC’s housing initiatives.