Aging Options

Why Are We Not Seeing More 'Granny Flats'?

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When Seattle lifted a cap to allow backyard cottages in all single-family neighborhoods, a gloomy image emerged among worrywarts: A rush of cottages tarnishing quiet neighborhoods with noise, privacy and parking woes.

Two years later, the city pronounced that the ordinance has had a positive effect on Seattle’s housing stock. The city released a report (pdf) Thursday that found that only 57 cottage permits have been issued since the law passed in December of 2009.

I’ve always thought that concept of a free-standing, detached “mother-in-law” cottage presents a great option for families to consider when addressing the challenges that come with navigating that territory we call “elder care”. This is especially true when taking into consideration that many urban neighborhoods in Seattle are what we call “amenity rich” when it comes to things like walkability, bus routes, proximity to shopping and health services, staying in touch with social and church circles, etc.

Imagine what great space could be constructed in one’s backyard that provides a level of “independent” living for for a relative who may be at that point in life where they require some assistance, but can’t afford the high cost of a traditional assisted living facility. And over the long run that space could function for a wide variety of users while adding value to one’s property.

I worked on a housing task force for the City of Anacortes a few years back that specifically sought to provide land use code and promote this type of housing… toward the purpose of increasing density and affordability inside their city limits. Likewise, I was involved with a cottage housing development in the town of Langley on Whidbey Island.

Frankly, I’m baffled that more families have not taken advantage of this Seattle ordinance. I’d like to hear from you if you’ve got some insight into this seemingly underutilized approach to addressing the sky-rocketing costs of elder care.

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