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55-Plus Housing Is Out Of Reach For Some Seniors In Chesterfield

55-Plus Housing Community on Courthouse Road in Chesterfield
55-Plus communities in Chesterfield are also called "Active Adult." The starting prices for many begin in the mid $300,000 range. (Photo: Ian Stewart/VPM)
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New 55-Plus development on Reams Road in Chesterfield County.
The new 55-Plus community is set to open off Reams Road in Chesterfield County. (Ian Stewart/VPM)
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Kathy and Todd Acker have lived in their colonial house for over 30 years. One of their favorite places is their deck that overlooks their shade garden.

“In the summer, when the leaves are out, it’s very private. And I enjoy gardening,” said Kathy Acker.

Now that their two kids have families of their own, the Ackers are looking to downsize and move to a 55-plus community. The transition will require compromises, including Kathy giving up her garden because most of the places they’ve seen don’t have much outdoor space.

Another reason for selling their three-bedroom house is Todd’s health. At 66, his knees are giving him trouble. But his main concern is the cost of moving.

“For me, it’s more of a financial thing. How do we cut all of it,” said Todd Acker.

Todd & Kathy Acker
The value of the Ackers’ current home may not be enough to cover the cost of a retirement home in many local 55-plus communities. (Photo: Ian Stewart/VPM News)

The Ackers’ house sits on tree-lined cul-de-sac in North Chesterfield. Houses in their area are selling for under $300,000. Even with home improvements over the years, Todd says it won’t be enough to buy into a new 55-plus community. 

“It is frustrating to have a very nice house in a nice neighborhood and not be able to move laterally or with a transfer of equity into a smaller house for retirement purposes,” said Todd Acker.

Currently in Chesterfield County, there are more than a dozen “age-restricted'' communities with more coming. These communities cost more than most homes. Many start in the mid-$300,000 range and the costs can go much higher depending on the amenities seniors are looking for. For the Ackers, they’d like a walkable community with access to a clubhouse so they can meet with other seniors. 

Home values in the county have risen up to 2.9% over the past year, according to Zillow. The median price of homes currently listed in Chesterfield is $361,925. And the median price of homes sold is $296,000. The median home value in Chesterfield is $266,100. Zillow predicts they will rise 2.8% within the next year. 

According to the county, Chesterfield’s senior population is expected to more than double to about 89,000 in the next 20 years. Currently about a quarter of the senior population is cost-burdened. That means they’re spending 30% or more on housing. 

Chesterfield County Planning Manager Steve Haasch says seniors face a lot of pressure when it comes to housing costs.

“As you know, the baby boomers age and have that fixed income,” said Haasch. “What is the impact on their housing situation, especially when we're such a in-demand county with a high quality of life that housing costs keep going up?”

Haasch says the county isn’t in the home-building business. Instead, he says the county encourages developers to build more affordable housing in areas that can also benefit other age groups, such as millennials. 

“We definitely need to mix up our communities a little bit more. Right now we’re really heavy on the single-family detached side,” said Haasch.

An update to the Zoning Ordinance to allow for more flexibility for single home owners is in the works, said Haasch. Officials are considering allowing accessory dwelling units. Those are generally smaller apartments built on the same property as a primary house. The new zoning ordinance is expected to be completed in 2020. 

Like other municipalities, Chesterfield has some programs to help seniors “age in place.” 

Pam Cooper works for the County’s Office of Community Enhancement. Her office helps connect seniors with non-profits that can do both major and minor home repairs. Cooper says that it’s very expensive for seniors to move out to places such as assisted living apartments or nursing homes. 

“A lot of our seniors love their homes. They want to stay there. And they use our resources to make that dream come true,” said Cooper.

The County also offers a property tax relief program for seniors, that served nearly 3,300 participants in 2018. Another County program offers tax relief to help offset repairs and rehabilitation of older homes, though it’s not geared specifically toward seniors. Since last year, the county has received 21 applications. 

As for the Ackers, they think they’ve found a place to retire in a development called Fox Creek. There are three neighborhoods in FoxCreek, with one specifically for seniors. It’s a walkable community of a couple hundred townhomes.

Todd Acker thinks they can handle the home prices, which start at $350,000, and Kathy Acker likes that there’s a small space for her garden and that everyone there would be in their age group.