By Mine Metitiri
During the past several months, there has been growing anticipation for the opening of a brand new multi-unit housing complex across the street from our office. Many of us here at Healthy City were curious about what the cost would be to live in such a beautiful complex. I personally imagined, if unrealistically, living conveniently across the street within walking distance to work; away from the hustle and bustle of morning traffic. Finally, after months of waiting, a sign was posted with leasing information. Imagine the surprise when we read that this new complex was going to be exclusively for senior citizens age 62 and over. A senior living community in the middle of Echo Park?
Echo Park is a historic neighborhood full of numerous vintage clothing and coffee shops. It has an assortment of bars ideal for the perfect after work happy hour. When asked, most would describe it as a youthful neighborhood, seniors and retirees do not come to mindÂ…or should they?
We have recently added new Aging Service Area boundary areas from the Los Angeles Department of Aging. An investigation using these new boundary areas, and Census tract demographic data on populations 65 and older, revealed a surprising discovery that Echo Park is not as youthful as it appears from simply walking around. The national percentage of adults 65 and over is 13%. Within the Echo Park aging area boundary, 27% of the census tracts had senior populations between 13-18% and additionally 20% of the census tracts had senior populations that were above 18%.
These senior complexes, or senior living centers as they are sometimes called, are not the senior communities of our grandparents' generation which were neatly tucked away in the suburbs or in Florida somewhere. They are upscale condos or townhouses located in the heart of many urban centers. Construction of these facilities is on the rise throughout the country.
Senior citizens are quickly becoming a large portion of the American population. Last year, 72 million Americans who were born between 1946 and 1964 turned 65. Countries like Japan, China, Brazil, and most of Europe are also facing significant increases in their aging populations. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the number of people 60 and over has doubled since 1980 and by the year 2050, older adults will outnumber children under 14. Additionally, the WHO reports that within five years, the number of people 65 and over will outnumber children under 5.
The Baby Boomers, as this population has been commonly called, will influence the political and social landscape in years to come in terms of healthcare costs, employment, and availability of affordable housing. The rising cost of healthcare and Medicare and the economic burden that is sure to come has been the topic of recent political debates. What has yet to make its way into the mainstream conversation and political debate is the issue of affordable housing for this aging population.
Wealthy Baby Boomers will have the option of renovating their homes and hiring health aids or moving into either independent or assisted living facilities. For most Americans the costs of these facilities serve as a barrier and an unlikely option. A report published in the Assisted Living Executive, estimates that the monthly rent for an average room is about $3,500, and that this cost could be more if home care or medication assistance is required. For those who are without the need of medical assistance, newer more modern unassisted living communities are on the rise.
With the recent recession and declines in the housing sector, there has been a slow yet steady increase in development of senior living communities. However, the supply has not kept up with demand and there is currently a shortage of senior living facilities like the one shown above. Additionally, these facilities don't address the issue of affordability for those seniors with low income or modest retirement funds; and this may be a new area of concern for social justice advocates in the future.
Moving forward, changes in aging demographics and the social burdens they will have on society will be an important discussion to have when contemplating new social policies. Affordable housing for seniors is just one of many issues the Baby Boomer generation will encounter as they continue to live longer and begin to retire. Unfortunately, this and other aging issues are not to be ignored or disregarded if you are in your 20s, 30s or even 40s, because the policy decisions that are made today will eventually affect us all in the future.