Over the coming two decades, a vast share of Americans "“ a group the size of which we've never seen before "“ is slated to age into retirement and beyond. And unlike their parents' and grandparents' generations, most of these people do not plan to go willingly to the old folks' home. In the new buzz phrase of policymakers, 80-90 percent of these aging Baby Boomers say they want to "age in place."
There is just one problem: our places are not fit for the aged. Federal legislation like theAmericans with Disabilities Act has slowly been changing the way we build for the past 20 years, so that newer multi-family complexes and a fraction of all housing built with public funds can accommodate, say, a walker or a wheelchair, or someone who can't make it to the second floor to use the bathroom. But the real obstacle for an aging America has not yet been touched: our national army of privately built single-family homes.
A handful of cities and counties "“ Pima County and Tucson, Arizona; Bolingbrook, Illinois "“ today have ordinances that are starting to tackle this, mandating that new private home construction include some basic design features that will aid both the disabled and the elderly. But as these laws spread and expand, we are destined for a difficult national conversation about that least favorite American pastime: planning for when we get old. Should young first-time homebuyers be required to build into their homes accommodations for 80-year-olds? Should we require owners who extensively remodel their existing houses to make some of these changes, too (at a much greater cost)? And is now the time "“ just when the homebuilding industry is trying to get back on its feet "“ to layer on more regulation?