Money can be tight these days.
That’s true for almost everyone. While there have been some positive signs recently when it comes to inflation, goods and services still cost significantly more than they did just two years ago, and headlines about even more economic hardships approaching in the near future are hard to miss.
All of this hits residents hard, and right in their wallets. But those who are living on a fixed income are even more at risk. According to the National Institute on Retirement Security, as of 2022, approximately 40% of individuals 60 years of age or older are relying solely on Social Security benefits for their income. With many receiving less than $2,000 per month, it doesn’t leave much in the way of wiggle room, especially if prices are going to continue to increase for everything from electricity to a dozen eggs at the grocery store.
Of course, this reality lends itself to much bigger questions about the economy, necessary changes to Social Security benefits, health care costs, and more, none of which can or will be decided in Cheshire by elected Cheshire officials. Yet, a small step in the right direction appears on the horizon at the Planning and Zoning Commission.
Late in February, the Commission discussed altering its accessory apartment requirements to provide for an easier and less-expensive approval process. Essentially, the change would keep in place all current requirements for building permits and code compliance, but would change the public hearing portion to save the applicant both time and money.
This may be a small action in the grand scheme of things, but local municipalities can do plenty of “small” things to help equal significant savings. And in this case, helping to ease even a small financial burden can help in the long run, especially when it comes to accessory apartments.
Providing a space for a relative, especially someone retired and living on a fixed income, has long been a familial tradition. But now, given the state of the economy, it makes more sense than ever to create such living environments, if a family has the means and the space to do so. Of course, there needs to continue to be limitations on the size and use of these apartments, but taking away some of the “red tape” required to erect such a structure, especially when those steps don’t really do anything to protect the surrounding neighborhood, could clear the way for more families to provide better conditions for their loved ones.
The PZC also must ensure that current regulations align neatly with those of the state when it comes to accessory apartments, so that there are no complications for residents when pursuing a new structure on their property.
Such a living arrangement won’t work for everyone or everywhere in town. The PZC must continue to enforce restrictions that ensure huge “accessory” homes are not going up all across town, in places they shouldn’t. But the world is changing and so is our need to rethink how we live, where we live, and how we ensure that loved ones are cared for in their elderly years.
For centuries, generations of families would live under the same roof, helping to provide for each other. That model changed dramatically in the 20th century as children chose to strike out on their own, away from parents and their birth home.
But now, it seems another change is taking place, driven in part by economic uncertainty. From 2005 to 2009, family households added approximately 3.8 million extended family members, from adult siblings and in-laws to cousins and nephews, a trend that doesn’t seem to be abating anytime soon. The number of households with two or more adult generations has quadrupled over the past five decades, according to a Pew Research Center survey from last year.
So it would make sense for Cheshire and other municipalities to make the construction of accessory apartments, where appropriate, easier. It will be keeping with the times.