As I prepare to attend my first Midwinter ULI Trustees meeting, the question of adaptability in the housing sector is striking a personal chord, especially as I read these words in the Starting Point document: “In a capital-intensive industry that produces long-lived assets,…more flexible, adaptable products and processes are needed.” 

Last weekend, our nearly 90-year-old next door neighbors moved out of the house that had been their home for more than five decades. They are trading in a few thousand square feet of home and nearly an acre of property for an assisted living apartment.

When we moved to our neighborhood seven years ago with two preschoolers in tow, I was surprised to learn that it had such a high percentage of residents over 65. Later, I realized that many of the original post-WWII houses (like my neighbors’) were decently suited to aging-in-place. Many are (or were) smaller, one- or two-story ranches built on grade. Fewer steps to climb and a lower mortgage, both attractive in retirement.

But as property values soar in the Washington, DC suburbs, most of these homes (now deemed “obsolete” against today’s expectations of style or space) are being torn down. Their replacements are always bigger – typically three stories, or more. Several like this have gone up around us. I see them today and ask myself: could anyone live in that house for five decades? Never mind lugging a baby stroller up the steep front steps…

Already my husband and I are discussing what retirement looks like. Anticipating increasingly achy joints as we age, he has advocated “flat sizing.” Unfortunately, the chances of finding such a home near us are slim. But I wonder: will changing demographics and economics in the housing sector push the development of housing that is more universally designed for all stages of life? And will increasing concerns about waste, energy and other resources drive us to think of creative ways to reuse the existing housing stock rather than level it and start over?