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Survey: Residents prefer small homes to apartment buildings for senior housing

The Planning Board’s housing survey results are in: While Harvard’s citizens want senior housing and increased housing diversification, they also prefer housing types that fit Harvard’s current aesthetic. The board revealed these results at its Feb. 18 meeting, concluding a monthslong process encompassing three surveys and several focus groups.

The survey revealed that 60% of respondents support the idea of diversifying Harvard’s housing stock, while 23% disapprove. Senior citizens expressed the strongest support for this idea, while first-time homebuyers expressed the least.

Both older citizens and the general population expressed a strong preference for small homes or cottages relative to other kinds of housing such as apartments, townhouses, or condos. Clustering together small, independent homes for seniors topped the charts for both groups. Focus groups also revealed that citizens like townhouses and condos more than apartment buildings.

Housing that keeps units in separate buildings, such as cottage clusters and accessory apartments, generally scored over 50% approval. Those that use multifamily buildings, such as the conversion of large homes into multiple units, generally scored below 50%. However, large-lot, single family homes (sometimes referred to as “McMansions”) and planned unit developments (which some described as “cookie-cutter”) both scored poorly.

According to Director of Community and Economic Development Chris Ryan, the architectural survey revealed a strong preference for colonial-style buildings relative to other styles. He also said that while multifamily dwellings scored below single-family ones, the multifamily dwellings that looked more like
single-family houses sometimes scored well.

An area where older citizens and the general population split their opinion is how they ranked retirement communities relative to assisted living facilities. Harvard’s seniors greatly preferred retirement communities, while the general population had a slight preference for assisted living. According to Planning Board member Fran Nickerson, retirement communities are often the first step for seniors who downsize from their homes, while assisted living facilities are for the oldest and least independent of seniors. Nickerson said that the retirement communities are thus a better fit for Harvard’s current seniors, many of whom want a way to downsize from their large existing homes without needing to leave town.

Another such split occurred on accessory apartments, which the general population rated much higher than older people did. Nickerson theorized that Harvard’s seniors prize their independence, which is why they find those apartments less appealing.

The Planning Board hopes to use the results of this survey to inform its proposed bylaws for upcoming town meetings, both this spring and beyond.

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