The Provo City Council again discussed how to maintain, and tighten, government control of private property at its last meeting. Should seniors be allowed to actually use "extra space" in their homes once their children are grown? "Extra space" is the new phrase for "accessory apartments." The two men on the council, George Stewart and Steve Turley, voted in favor of action. All five of the women on the council voted to prolong the council's 12-year discussion on the issue.
Many homeowners in my neighborhood are my age nearly 80 or older. Most have lived in their homes 30-50 years and raised their families there. Many of us are finding that our savings, pensions, Social Security or part-time jobs may have been adequate when we were 65, but 15 to 25 years later, our income cannot cover the cost of $4-a-gallon gasoline or $300 utility bills.
As I listened to hours of discussion, it struck me that the majority of the council, in fact, all five of the women, were far more interested in controlling what people do on and with their property than they were in addressing the current needs of real people. In spite of BYU having stopped growth of its student body and requiring students to live nearer the university than my neighborhood, the City Council seems determined to keep students out of my "family" zoned neighborhood.
Today, fewer children being born causes a severe labor shortage of young people who can, or will, do yardwork or who even know how to maintain and improve older homes and yards. Many homeowners who know how to maintain and improve their homes do not have the physical strength or the money to maintain their homes as they would like. They are hurting financially. A minor car problem can be a major financial challenge on a limited and shrinking income.
I had previously pointed this out via e-mail to members of the City Council. Many of the largest, finest and most expensive neighborhoods in eastern U.S. communities i.e. Harlem, N.Y. became slums because homeowners could not maintain them and moved away. People who rented those fine old homes did not have the money, knowledge or desire to maintain them.
Harlem became a slum. It is having the homeowner in the house, not a family in the house, that stops decay. Slums are populated by families. Yet the majority on the council seems determined to make life difficult for senior homeowners.
I asked what are they doing to try to keep senior homeowners like me in our homes? Not a single member of the council answered my question. The women on the council seemed more interested in figuring out how to control seniors, not help them. They debated at length how the city could force seniors to "register each year," lest they die and not report their death to the zoning authorities. It was suggested that seniors who had "two kitchens" be required to reregister annually or pay fines like traffic tickets.
One speaker warned that "some seniors will register, and some won't." I thought: "And the rest of us seniors will forget we must register annually lest the storm troopers from the zoning department descend on us."
Sometimes the only major asset seniors have left is their home. Not only is the problem not being addressed, it is being made worse by outdated, rigid, invasive and controlling zoning laws.
Mary Mostert is a longtime resident of Provo.