Green House Blog

Dreaming Up a Community: Reflections on Housing Policy Innovations

As I sit in the recent Innovations in Housing conference, held in Atlanta, learning about how to finance new housing projects, create transit-oriented designs, and develop a way that people can age in community, I can’t help but be a bit overwhelmed by the expertise in the room and so I just remain quiet and listen. With a prevalence of (Housing and Urban Development) HUD experts, homeless housing innovators and affordable housing gurus’ surrounding me, I wonder, “what is a woman who eats, sleeps, and breathes reinvention of long term care doing here? Why would The AARP Foundation want someone like me to come here?” I was like a horse of a different color. Or they were…either way, it was clear they haven’t seen the likes of me before- I openly challenge their quest for aging in place as a misnomer. I appreciate that there is a HUGE population boom of older Americans without affordable living options, but instead of NORC’s and affordable senior directed rental builds, I push for commitment to innovation that grows integrated communities and offer community based supports to aging process for all ages (babies and adults and teens are aging also, you know). This conference drew me out of my familiar waters, and gave me the opportunity to listen to a new perspective.

Here’s the thing about listening, not being the most expert in the room…

It usually ends with a deeper understanding. This may not shock us Green House folks. Listening yields understanding- in fact, it is what we tout, right? We listen to those who know best (ELDERS, Shahbazim…) and respond accordingly. So that’s what I did. I listened for three days. My quieted and focused brain doing what it sometimes forgets how to do… imagining. And low and behold it clicked.
The Green House model is a model of multi-income housing for elders, as well as a pathway of personal growth for those who interact with it, so why not consider it as a development collaborative with other projects of similar mission? Housing initiatives are striving to reinvigorate communities plagued by loneliness, helplessness, and boredom in their own rights and this Green House model has a community engagement piece that is palpable. Why wouldn’t we consider the opportunity to raise Green House Homes as a living option in revitalized communities, but also as a means to revitalize communities? Let’s look to work with Habitat for Humanity and other community revitalization efforts in urban and rural areas, and seek partnership.

Imagine: A former trailer park or empty urban lot converted to a mixed income neighborhood with variety of home ownership and rental options which are supporting elders of varying abilities, young people and new families, middle aged employable adults. Did I mention this neighborhood boasts a really amazing community based Green House home? This Green House home employs some people who live in the area and others just know is a place of safety, fun, and dignity in the neighborhood. Offerings like community concerts, transportation, and wellness based opportinties are shared. The community pulls together to support people who live with dementia alongside families who need help juggling responsabilities of a different nature. Kids and elders connect in the back yards- engaging in play and learning lessons of respect, wisdom, and patience from each other. The teens can stop over to teach social media and in return get advice on managing conflict, navigating precarious relationships, and how to die with dignity.

Sounds like a dream worth pursuing to me…Innovations in housing should be connected intimately with innovations in long term living. We’ve got too much to share to segregate campuses and isolate elders from the very neighborhoods they built. Stretch the possibilities, and use development grants to fund communities with a whole spectrum of integrated supports, especially a small home for the neighbors to move into and age together “in community” when aging “in place” becomes unmanageable, regardless of chronological age.

Thank you to The AARP Foundation for sponsoring a Green House adopter to attend this conference and add their perspective to this important conversation.