Alfred: ADUs can help older residents afford homes


Wendell Alfred is the president of AARP Delaware.

If there is one thing everyone can agree on when it comes to the housing shortage in Delaware, it’s that we are at a crisis stage, and we need to act now. Delaware is grappling with a staggering 19,000-unit affordable housing shortage that has persisted for far too long. There are many stakeholders in this conversation, and the road to consensus has been decades in the making. 

Several bills are currently under consideration in the General Assembly that aim to ease the housing shortage in a variety of ways. Senate Bill 23 is a sensible plan to expand affordable housing options by easing barriers for homeowners to put accessory dwelling units on their properties. These in-law suites, garage apartments or backyard cottages create flexible living arrangements, often for older residents who want to downsize and live with family or who require day-to-day assistance to stay in their homes. They also provide affordable housing for vital workers and students in communities close to work and school.

Older Delawareans overwhelmingly want to live independently as they age — in homes and communities where they have established roots, raised families and contributed to the local economy. But right now, many are house rich and cash poor, leaving them trapped in larger houses that may no longer meet their needs. In a recent AARP national survey, the top reasons older people gave for considering living in an accessory dwelling unit were living close to someone while having a separate space, having help with transportation and everyday activities, and lowering their housing costs. Other benefits include multigenerational living, social connectedness, civic engagement and affordable entry-level housing for young people.

With the number of Americans over 65 expected to more than double from 40 million to 81 million by 2040, it is paramount that policymakers promote housing options to meet the needs of older adults. We can’t afford to wait any longer for substantive reform. Our current housing framework has failed to provide affordable housing options for older Delawareans to age in place. By clinging to outdated rules and regulations, we perpetuate a system that exacerbates housing insecurity not only for older adults but for all who have been affected by rising housing costs.

Concerns from some homeowners that accessory dwelling units would change the character of their neighborhoods have proven to be unfounded in areas of New Castle and Kent counties where they have been in place for many years without concerns or complaints from the public.

SB 23 is part of a package of legislation under consideration this year aimed at easing Delaware’s shortage of affordable housing. Change is rarely easy, but the status quo is not acceptable. On behalf of more than 190,000 members statewide, AARP urges lawmakers to pass this measure and to begin tackling the challenge of meaningful housing reform so that Delawareans of all ages have affordable housing options.

Reader reactions, pro or con, are welcomed at civiltalk@iniusa.org.

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