Sally Brown has lived in her home on Daly Avenue for more than 30 years, and she’s finally ready to move.
The baby boomer, though, doesn’t want to go far. Brown wants to turn her backyard garage into a cottage, move in, and spend the rest of her life in her neighborhood, the center of her universe.
“I’m working hard to be self sufficient, and I have good examples of that,” said Brown. “Both my mother and my mother-in-law took care of themselves just-fine-thank-you until two weeks before they died, so that’s what I’m looking at. That’s what I’m going to do. I’d like to have a small place, enjoy the yard, have companionable people in the main house who need more room than I do, and live out my days.”
Years ago, Brown lived in the home as a mother, and six people filled the house. Now, she lives there by herself, and she envisions a “low key” couple moving in, or maybe a couple and a child. In her later years, she’d like to have folks who help her with chores.
“There’s no reason for me to live in a big house that somebody else, a single family, might enjoy,” Brown said.
And, she said, there’s no reason for her to get wheeled off and “warehoused” in a convalescent facility or otherwise forced out of the neighborhood she calls home.
But her plan depends on local government approval of a controversial regulatory change.
The Missoula City Council is considering regulation changes for “accessory dwelling units,” including backyard cottages, and Brown would build one and move in “as soon as it’s legal.”
“You might note that a lot of people have what we’re calling ADUs in their backyard,” said Brown, who noted some were built as offices and others when the second units used to be legal.
People talk about the neighborhood being a “single family” district, but Brown said “this area really hasn’t been single family from the start.” Really, she said, it’s always been a mix of both stable families and students coming and going.
“That adds an element of city living that I actually enjoy,” Brown said.
Brown imagines her cottage would be energy efficient and built to match the architecture of her home, and she also figures her presence on the property would be a plus. In other words, she wouldn’t be an absentee landlady.
“I want to live right here, and that’ll take care of a lot of nonsense that might go on,” Brown said.
(At least under the current rules, the owner’s presence on the property also is required; see related story.)
In the past couple of years, she has done a lot of work on the house, and she plans to do more. She’s fixed the crumbling foundation, had lead paint removed and added fresh paint, built a new deck in the backyard and has plans to start a roof job.
Over the last four or five years, Brown actually looked for a smaller house to buy, but that idea didn’t work out.
“I’m pretty picky. I live in what I think is one of the best areas of town because it’s close to the university, it’s close to downtown, it’s close to the river trail, and that takes you everywhere,” Brown said.
She walks to the university to mail letters, go the bank, attend basketball games and take classes. She goes to ice cream socials with neighbors and University of Montana students.
“I take my dog faithfully to the Bark Park, and that’s his walk and my walk, too. I love to get on the river trail on my bike, and it pops me right downtown to the farmers market or the library or something downtown,” Brown said.
She doesn’t believe she should have to give all that up, and she believes boomers can change the way people age. And Brown wants to age in place in her own home surrounded by her neighbors.
“It sounds kind of silly, but I want to see the kids grow up. I want to see what happens in the neighborhood,” Brown said.