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Wanted: Right-Size Housing for Seniors

Oct. 26 conference in Portland will focus on big living in a smaller space

Rudolph Barton, downsized from a large house to a condo in downtown Portland

Rudolph Barton, 64, and his wife, Rhonda, downsized from a large house to a condo in downtown Portland. Barton, an architecture professor, designed the bookcase, which his students built. — Chris Mueller/Redux

Rhonda and Rudolph Barton downsized two years ago, trading a vintage 1907 bungalow — their home for 35 years — for a condo.

They swapped the leafy hills of southwest Portland for high-density living downtown, giving up more than one-third of the living space of their 3,000-square-foot house.

But they've never looked back.

See also: Is your home aging well?

The condo is secure, convenient and free of lawn care. The Bartons walk to work, restaurants and stores. When they travel, they lock up and leave.

Downsizing trend

Although no statistics exist on the number of older people downsizing in the Portland metro area, anecdotal evidence suggests the Bartons are not alone.

"We have half a dozen friends who've made a similar kind of move," said Rudolph Barton, 64, an architecture professor at Portland State University (PSU). "And half a dozen friends are thinking about it."

An Oct. 26 conference in Portland, "Build Small/Live Large," aims to cater to this demographic by encouraging contractors to build smaller, more affordable homes.

The conference will cover big issues and small details.

The overarching focus, said Jerry Cohen, AARP Oregon state director, is: "How do we make better use of what we have?"

Although wish lists vary, many empty nesters want the same things, said Jeanne Paul, principal broker with Windermere Cronin & Caplan Realty Group in Portland.

"They want low maintenance and walkability," she said. "They're looking for easy care and flexibility. They're also looking for a sense of community."

These preferences are creating a demand for small, less expensive homes that are close to public transportation, shops, entertainment and cultural activities.

Their numbers are growing, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

In 2000, there were more than 150,000 people 65 and older in Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties. A decade later, that demographic jumped to nearly 182,000 people. Twenty years from now, the Portland area's 65-plus population is expected to more than double, according to a study by PSU's Institute on Aging.

The institute has been working with AARP Oregon to push the city to prepare. As part of that effort, Portland was the first U.S. city to join the World Health Organization's age-friendly cities project in 2006, Cohen said. The following year, the institute published a report identifying age-friendly barriers in Portland.

Next: Barriers to building small. »

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