family, age, home, real estate and people concept - happy senior couple hugging over living house background

There is a potential crisis in California we need to address, but it doesn’t have anything to do with a drought, overcrowded schools or even businesses packing up and leaving the state. In fact, California’s population is aging significantly yet there is a shortage of housing to accommodate them all, falling short by an estimated 100,000 housing units per year for seniors.

To help the situation lawmakers and politicians from Governor Jerry Brown all the way down to local Placer County officials have turned to a simple solution – back yard Granny Flats. In the last few years, special legislation has been pushed through to make it easier for homeowners to build small units on existing properties, from garage additions to out-buildings, in order to house aging parents, relatives, and senior renters.

The problem may not garner big media headlines, but it is profound. By 2029 there will be 71.4 million Americans 65 years and older, comprising about 20% of the population. California is projected to be one of the fastest growing states, with an elderly population estimated to grow more than twice as fast as the total population. In fact, by 2020 the elderly age group is expected to increase 112 percent. The oldest age bracket will grow even faster, at an alarming 143 percent rate by 2020. The number of seniors 85 and over will further skyrocket between 2030 and 2030, when the huge group of Baby Boomers first hit 85 years old. Finding a comfortable, economical, and convenient place for them to live, while accounting for their medical and lifestyle needs, is no small task.

If you’re a senior or have aging parents who are in their Golden Years, you may understand the gravity of this situation. Older people don’t only need affordable housing but have medical issues, special care needs, and lifestyle considerations. However, putting them in a senior living facility can feel isolating – not to mention expensive. Many people have their aging parent(s) or relatives live with them right in their own home, but it’s often a frustrating situation with a lack of privacy and crowded conditions.

The answer very well might be Granny Flats, which allow aging relatives to live on the same property as their children and families, but without impeding on their generosity or privacy. Also referred to as Elder Cottages or ECHO Housing, Granny Flats are a smart solution to a huge need: housing elders or loved ones on the same property but not necessarily in the same home.

Some Granny Flats are custom built just like a small house or cottage, while others opt for the increasing number of pre-built and modular Granny Flat options. These small homes are perfectly self-contained with a bedroom, living area, kitchen, and bathroom (so pool houses and guesthouses don’t qualify) and are equipped with complete utilities, but at a fraction of the cost of buying a new home or even paying for some sort of senior housing.

Placer County is one of the California counties that have instituted changes that make easier for Granny Flats to be built on existing properties.

Placer County now allows a secondary unit on lots of only 5,000 square feet, representing a 50% reduction from previous 10,000 square foot rule that for homeowners to add a livable out-building. Deed restrictions that require dwellings to be affordable housing will also see development fees waived in Placer County, as long as the second unit is sized 250-1,200 square feet.

camap02Chris Schmidt, a senior Placer County planner, said of the ease of building and approving secondary housing units, “It’s recognizing the demographics are changing. We see it happening in other communities.”

Housing our aging population isn’t the only role of Granny Flats or secondary-lot housing, as more and more Americans are living in multi-generational households. These days, multigenerational households purchase 13% of all homes.

The reported reasons for buying a home between several generations of the same family include:

24% Cost savings

23% Adult children moving back in

18% Caretaking for aging parents

10% Spending more time with aging parents

Multi-generational family living is such an increasingly popular trend that new homebuilders are building their developments and homes with these living arrangements in mind. Other than just housing aging parents ore relatives, secondary structures on the same lot can also provide housing for live-in nannies, young adult children who moved back home after college, space for a home office or cottage business, out of town visitors, and temporary housing for young families.

Some homeowners choose to pull permits and build their own new structure from the ground up, while others opt for pre-constructed and modular units. These days, pre-built Granny cottages are designed to be easily popped up on a slab or attached to an existing house. They can also be dis-assemble and moved if the family ever moved or there was a change of plans. Homeowners only need to set up a foundation and electric, water, and sewer hookups to be in place, either separately or usually tied into the main house – something most general contractors can do with ease.

Placer County, among others in California and around the country, is getting ahead of this challenge by easing rules for Granny Flats and secondary structures on one home lot. By doing so they’re allowing homeowners, families, and adult children to accommodate their senior relatives with a comfortable, cost saving and mutually beneficial housing alternative so they can enjoy the autumn of their lives.

If you have questions about Granny Flats or buying a multi-generational home in Placer County, please contact me anytime!