LETTER: Social Worker Calls for City Leaders to Include Senior Housing in Watertown Square Plan

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As a clinical social worker for older adults and their families, I see the impact of the housing crisis every day. Housing shortages, coupled with a rising number of aging residents, leave many seniors with extremely difficult choices as they age. It has become harder than ever for people to age with dignity and independence. While many older adults would choose to age in place, this option is often untenable for a variety of reasons. 

Financial constraints can leave long-time residents unable to stay in homes, which frequently means leaving the communities where they have lived for decades. Physical needs change too. At some stage, most older residents have to reconsider the layout of their housing, as well as its vicinity to community resources. Walkability and access to public transit are top priorities for so many seniors. 

Watertown’s aging residents need many types of housing, and they need much more of it. That’s why I’m writing to urge our city’s leaders to craft a zoning plan for Watertown Square that makes more housing — and a greater variety of housing — easier, quicker, and less expensive to build. The current zoning proposal makes some good strides in the right direction, but it needs to be even more expansive if we want to serve our older residents well. 

Surrounding communities such as Brighton, Boston, Brookline, Newton and soon Waltham, have all responded to the increased demand for affordable senior housing, to ensure that seniors remain a vital part of cities’ local life. 2Life Communities is a stellar example of how people who are 62 years old and older can remain a visible and active part of the community, which benefits not only the residents but the entire city. By offering both income-based and market-rate apartments, 2Life Communities provides a wonderful middle ground for people who might not be able to remain in a multi-or single-family home, though would not meet requirements to live in long-term or assisted living care. 

Families are struggling to care for aging members who might not qualify for the limited types of living situations available in Watertown today. We need more housing options, so our aging neighbors can find the right housing fit at each stage of life, right here in the community we all love. It would be fantastic to see a new building of senior apartments developed in the Square, close to our superlative public library, restaurants, and cafes, as well as public transit. That would provide access to the kind of vibrant community life that helps people age with dignity and independence. But to see that become a reality in five or 10 years, we have to make it possible today.

The Watertown Square redesign process offers an incredible opportunity to encourage more housing of all kinds through changes to our local zoning. In order to make something like 2Life Communities a reality in Watertown, and to see the diversity of development we need, zoning changes must include taller buildings, simple by-right development processes, and incentives to help affordable development compete with market-rate luxury developers. By not restricting zoning and height requirements, especially for affordable development, Watertown can move closer toward joining multiple cities and towns nearby in becoming an Age-Friendly City

I want this not only for the older adult residents of Watertown, but for people of all generations. What a gift it would be to remain in community and reap the rewards of a thriving, well-integrated, and robust older adult population. I hope that our city leaders will make that future possible.

Sara Keary, PhD, LICSW
Trustee, Watertown Free Public Library

Send letters and op-eds to watertownmanews@gmail.com

One thought on “LETTER: Social Worker Calls for City Leaders to Include Senior Housing in Watertown Square Plan

  1. Thanks for this well-written letter. It is good to see some people in town trullly looking out for others. My girlfriend loves that there are real caring people here. When she reads the Watertown Paper, she just calls t garbage. But this proves her wrong. thnks!

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