Chris Lambrecht, 65, author of the upcoming book “Living Among Friends, A Boomer’s Guide to Housing Options,” said older people on fixed incomes want to live with other seniors to share expenses.
But, according to the Cobb County code, no more than two unrelated adults can live together in a single-family residence.
The Cobb Commissioners unanimously voted Feb. 25 to loosen the code by allowing a family to legally move in one unrelated adult, such as a nanny, caretaker or college student.
“I believe that Tim Lee and the commission are senior friendly,” said Lambrecht, who acted as a campaign manager for Larry Savage in a race against Lee for chairman. “At some point in time, I plan to approach them to change the current code to allow this type of shared living for folks over the age of 50.”
Lambrecht said older neighbors are conscientious, with limited late-night vehicle traffic and guests. In fact, he predicts many Baby Boomers in Cobb are already breaking the code, without causing a concern.
“These are not boarding houses,” Lambrecht said.
A Golden Girls home would be preferable to neighbors over an older couple taking in their adult children and grandchildren to spread the family’s income, which would be allowed by the current code, Lambrecht said.
Commissioner JoAnn Birrell, who represents the northwest corner of Cobb in District 3, said she has not heard much about the trend and most land-use applicants brought before the board involve families renting a room to a Kennesaw State University student.
Birrell said she is interested in seeing if there would be any opposition from a neighborhood if signs are posted in a yard about a public hearing for a Golden Girls home. The community consensus could be positive because of the low impact on neighborhoods, she said.
“I could see how these cases could be different,” Birrell said.
A process of change in Cobb
Commissioner Bob Ott also said he had not heard about the Golden Girls housing trend and is not opposed to the idea.
“We just haven’t seen it yet,” Ott said.
But any change to the county code would be a result of a “real life scenario” needing to be addressed, such as the causes for the most recent adjustment passed in late February.
The Golden Girls housing trend might be embraced in his east Cobb district, Ott said. This includes his subdivision, Terrell Mill Estates, where Ott said a third of the 200 houses are occupied by widows living on pensions.
Yet, if the code opens up the number of unrelated adults allowed to cohabitate, the change would apply county-wide, leading to “fraternity houses” near KSU, Ott said.
“(The decision) is more than just the number of people in a house,” Ott said.
Lambrecht said it is hard enough to find the right property and align a group of compatible roommates, let alone attend two public hearings to get case-by-case approval from the county.
“There is so much to picking the right person to ‘age in place’ with,” Lambrecht said.
This process would also mean sharing one’s financial or personal information with the public, and, Lambrecht said, fighting against the stigma of two adult men living together.
Lambrecht said the number of acceptable occupants of a home should be based on the amount of square footage in a residential property.
“I love Cobb County, but sometimes I read stories about the occupancy code and find them way behind the times,” said Lambrecht, who feels Cobb is stuck in a mentality of strict single-family living.
A growing national trend
In December, Lambrecht started writing his book, outlining options for seniors wanting to downsize, and he is at least six months away from finishing.
Originally from Ohio, Lambrecht moved to Georgia in 1983 and lived in east Cobb until last year.
“I’d personally like to spend the rest of my life in east Cobb,” Lambrecht said.
Although Cobb’s property tax laws are “favorable,” Lambrecht doubts he could purchase a property by himself.
Lambrecht, who has worked for years as a business-to-business consultant, said the market trend is about “older people” coming together to age “in place” and “in community.”
“It’s inevitable. It’s coming,” Lambrecht said.
Before the economy took a downward turn, the trend was families building large homes and constantly upsizing through life.
“Now, we have empty nesters sitting in six-bedroom mansions,” Lambrecht said.
Many of these residents want to stay in their community, but cannot afford the mortgage, taxes, utilities and upkeep on one family’s retirement income.
Lambrecht said a couple might want to share with another couple, or divorcees and widowers might be open to cohabitating.
“We have more people living alone in the United States than ever before,” Lambrecht said.
Lambrecht said Baby Boomers do not want the retirement their parents had. In fact, some retirement communities in Florida are losing population because of this trend, he said.
“People 65 to 70 don’t consider themselves old,” Lambrecht said.
Lambrecht said Baby Boomers want to live close to a metropolitan area with entertainment options, such as concerts and museums.
But this means retirees will not use their entire savings on a home, in order to have expendable money “to do the things that baby boomers like to do,” Lambrecht said.