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In 2014, Carrie and Sterling Whitley were in their early 80s and living in a home that they’d occupied since the 1950s. They had raised their children in the home, including their daughter Brenda. Over the years they had made friends with their neighbors and had become a cornerstone in their community. Both of them wanted to remain in their home as long as possible, but they also recognized they might need help at some point. Furthermore, they knew that since their home doesn’t meet any of the accessibility requirements, if the time came that they needed an accessible home they’d need to move away from their community.
Meanwhile, their daughter Brenda hadn’t been able to afford a place of her own in Santa Cruz, where she grew up. She often visited her parents but she wasn’t able to help out as much as she would have liked because she didn’t live in town.
Fortunately, these two generations of the Whitley family found a solution to both their housing dilemmas when Carrie and Sterling were approved as the first residents of Monterey Bay Habitat for Humanity’s My House My Home program.
“My House My Home is a partnership between senior homeowners, Habitat for Humanity, the City of Santa Cruz, and Senior Network Services. The program goal is to build Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) on the existing properties of senior homeowners to provide additional income and adjustable living accommodations to help them age in place.”My House My Home website
The big idea behind the innovative My House My Home program is to build ADUs to assist low income senior homeowners who might be vulnerable to housing instability because they are living on a fixed income. As Carol Berg, Housing and Community Development Manager for City of Santa Cruz Economic Development Office, explains: “We had this skeleton of the program in our consolidated plan. We wanted to create a program that used ADUs to help seniors remain in their homes, but didn’t have a mechanism to do that.”
Meanwhile, the team at the local Habitat for Humanity affiliate for Monterey Bay was also trying to develop strategies to create more affordable housing units in a city with extremely high land costs. David Foster of Habitat for Humanity knew firsthand how vulnerable seniors in his community are to rising housing prices and he had worked with his parents to create an ADU to provide housing stability for them in their final years.
As they developed the co-created public-non-profit partnership, the partners set parameters for the seniors to be selected for the My House My Home program. It was important to both Habitat and the City of Santa Cruz that the people benefitting be seniors who could be at risk of losing their homes over time and who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford an ADU, so an income qualification was established. They determined it was important to make the program flexible by allowing the seniors to occupy either the ADU or the primary dwelling. As David put it: “They have the choice. They could remain in main house or downsize into the ADU.” The partners also recognized that the ADUs could and should be able to be used in a variety of ways. For instance:
“This program is unique. It’s a partnership between Habitat for Humanity and senior homeowners to build them an accessory dwelling unit, sometimes called a granny unit, and that allows them to either downsize into a smaller unit and then they can rent out their main house [or vice versa]. That allows them to stay in their neighborhood, keep their garden, keep all of their neighbors and their friends and their support network… We’re not just providing a way for seniors to age in place, but we’re also creating some new rental opportunities that are affordable for folks that live and work here in Santa Cruz.”David Foster
Through the program, Habitat worked with the Whitleys to design an ADU as an addition to their existing home. Since the ADU was designed with accessibility features, Carrie and Sterling know they’ll be able to downsize into the ADU if they ever need to. However, for now, Brenda has moved into the ADU.
“It’s where basically I can be right next door to my parents in case they need me or need any help. My House My Home is letting the seniors age in their house instead of having to go to assisted living. They’re making it accessible where a family member can live in a dwelling like this and also be able to take care of them when they get older and are unable to take care of themselves.”Brenda Whitley
Sterling and Carrie are partnering with their daughter as they age in place. Brenda is able to maintain a closer connection with her parents and to be be available for assistance if needed. Through My House My Home, Sterling, Carrie, and Brenda all have a more secure housing situation and a better plan for their future.