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Friday, May 16, 2008

Word To The Wise: Senior Housing and Other Interesting Tidbits

By E.A. Roberts



Senior housing is a complex issue at best. However, there have been some new developments locally which bear discussion. According to a 2003 AARP survey, “more than four in five (83%) of Americans age 45 and over say they strongly or somewhat agree that they would like to remain in their current residence for as long as possible, even if they have to hire outside help to care for them.” This would suggest there is a strong national preference for aging in place, rather than a desire to move to independent living facilities or downsizing to a smaller residence.

Another important point needs to be made. According to a staff report drawn up for the Davis Senior Citizens Commission: “[There is]… a lower population growth rate in Davis between 2000 and 2006 as compared to the Sacramento-Yolo CMSA. While the Sacramento-Yolo CMSA’s population increased by 15 percent, the City of Davis grew by approximately 7 percent. That 7 percent increase represents a rise in Davis’ population of slightly more than 4,000 persons, to an estimated 2006 level of 64,600.” A table of age distribution shows the rise in Davis’ population age 65 and over between the years 2000 and 2006 was 470 senior citizens; age 55 and over was 2,379 seniors.

The staff report went on to say: “Household growth trends generally mirrored population trends between 2000 and 2006, with the City lagging behind the CMSA. In the CMSA, the number of households increased by nearly 15 percent over the six-year period. In contrast, at just over six percent, the growth rate in Davis represents less than half the CMSA level. The 2006 estimate of just under 24,500 households in Davis represented an increase of approximately 1,500 new households from the number of households in the year 2000.” In other words, it could roughly be predicted in Davis there will be 24,500 + 1,500 = 26,000 households by the year 2013.

Whereas the Recommendations of the General Plan Update Steering Committee - March 20, 2008 states: “In 2006, the proportion of the Davis population ages 55 and over was 15%, while for the Sacramento-Yolo CMSA the proportion was 21%. 5% of the 6% difference between those two proportions is the result of the 16,285 UC Davis students who live in Davis. Removing that age distribution anomaly, the Davis proportion of residents over 55 grew more than twice as fast as those of the CMSA, and therefore it is reasonable to expect a change in the proportion of senior households in Davis from 15% to 18% of all households over the six years from 2008 through 2013. This change in proportion would increase the number of senior households by approximately 1,104 from a total of approximately 3,900 (=15% of approximately 26,000 total households in 2008) to 5,004 (=18% of approximately 27,800 total households in 2013). As convoluted and confusing as this “information” appears, the one thing that can be gleaned from the General Plan Update Steering Committee is their estimate that in Davis there will be 27,800 households in 2013.

National estimates of senior housing demand assume that 15% of senior households seek age-restricted housing units. Thus, the increase in “internal demand for age-restricted housing from current Davis residents is projected to be approximately 166 households (-1,104 x 15%). This demand can be rounded to 200 due to the recognized imprecision of the assumptions. The additional “external” demand from the senior parents of existing Davis residents who want to live in age-restricted housing near their children is difficult to project. This type of demand is real, however, and is arguably internally-generated by the children living in Davis. Based on proportion of ages in the 35 to 54 group, it is reasonable to project this demand as being equivalent to at least another 200 age-restricted housing units through 2013.” Despite the admitted imprecision of making such predictions, the General Plan Update Steering Committee is projecting a total need of approximately 400 age-restricted housing units by the year 2013.

Let’s take a look at the above statements more closely -

According to AARP: 83% of seniors would prefer not to move at all;

  • According to the Davis Senior Citizens Commission staff report:
  • The rise in Davis’ population between the years 2000 and 2006
  • For age 65 and over was 470 senior citizens;
  • For age 55 and over was 2,379 senior citizens.
  • It can be inferred that in Davis there will be 26,000 households by the year 2013.
  • According to the General Plan Update Steering Committee (GPUSC):
  • It is predicted in Davis there will be 27,800 households by the year 2013.
  • It is estimated in Davis there will be a need for approximately 400 age-restricted housing units by the year 2013.
Note the following:
  • There is no attempt to differentiate the housing needs of those between the ages of 55 and 65, versus age 65 and older, even though it can be vastly different.

  • In regard to the rise in Davis’ population between the years 2007 and 2013 of roughly 2,400 seniors age 55 and over, only 17% will want to move = approximately 400;

  • Staff report: in Davis by the year 2013 the number of households will be = 26,000;

  • The GPUSC: in Davis by the year 2013 the number of households will be = 27,800.

  • The GPUSC estimate of a need for approximately 400 age-restricted housing units by the year 2013 erroneously assumes all seniors want to move, whereas 83% probably will not wish to! The desire to “age in place” cuts the need for age-restricted housing down to approximately 70 units (17% of 400) - which in effect represents another facility slightly larger than the size of Eleanor Roosevelt Circle (60 units).
I had an interesting, if reluctant, conversation with the Covell Village developers the other day. They are conceptualizing a much smaller but interesting project, about a third the size of the original one. It is to be a large housing development for seniors and their families - of about 800 units at the Covell Village site. They claimed to have met with more than 340 individuals to collect opinions regarding the need for senior housing in Davis. To put it briefly, theirs is a “vision of a senior neighborhood design that will provide choices in home ownership, housing sizes and styles, and convenient access to healthcare and fitness opportunities.”

It all sounded very nice. Transportation in the form of a facility bus would be provided; the developers might be willing to kick in the cost of an ambulance station (a fourth fire station is cost prohibitive); greenbelts will abound; medical care will be had by teleconferencing; all income levels will be addressed and every senior should be able to afford something within the environs of the development; safe passage across the street to the shopping center would be built in. The list goes on.

Eventually I was asked if I would vote for approval of such a development. My answer was very equivocal, but to the point. The following questions were posed to the developers, to which I did not really receive an adequate response:
  • What are the internal needs of seniors in Davis, as opposed to external requirements? Are the developers serving internal needs first and foremost?
  • How will the city pay for the services it must provide to this new development? Will developers pay their fair share of those costs?
  • Is there a partnership between Covell Village and the Cannery project? Is there some way to influence the Cannery project to bring business into Davis, as well as workforce housing?
I did encourage the developers to come to the Davis Senior Citizens Commission, and make their pitch. They were also strongly urged by me to visit other commissions, and to listen to any responses carefully. Frankness compelled me to note their previous circumvention of governmental process led to bad feelings among commissioners and citizens alike. Trying to influence certain city council members to gain prior approval, with insufficient commission and community input, will not get them past the hurdle of the all important Measure J vote.

My concern has always been that development decisions are not being made based on the best interests of the city, e.g. developers promising schools without determining if there is sufficient funding to run the proposed facilities. Currently this latest rendition of development at the Covell Village site is nothing more than an attempt to resurrect the old project, but build it in smaller sections phased in over time. There is nothing inherently wrong with that approach - it has more likelihood of succeeding. The sticking point for me is to put a number to the “internal” need of Davis seniors for housing. How many units will be required?

The Covell Village developers seem to think 800 units will be necessary by the year 2013. Yet the GPUSC indicates somewhere between 200 and 400 is the optimal number, a rather loosey goosey estimate, with the acknowledgement such a figure is difficult to project. Whereas our commission’s staff report seems to forecast only a demand requisite of about 70 units. Which number is the most accurate becomes the million dollar question!

Now add onto that another layer of complication. Atria Covell Gardens, an assisted living facility for the frail elderly, saw rent and service hikes as high as 16% over two years. The residents were at the mercy of the corporate office, because other options are limited or nonexistent in Davis. Consequently there is probably a need for a continuing care facility that could offer effective competition.

It is also unclear to me if we have enough low cost housing for seniors in Davis. Middle income senior housing is most assuredly nonexistent. Eleanor Roosevelt Circle was supposed to address the lack of middle income housing, but almost completely failed to solve the issue. Instead, because of the mixed income rate structure that was not seen as desirable by potential residents, ERC is virtually filled with nothing but low income folks. Nevertheless, it is a model to be emulated for its on-site Social Services Director.

Mayor Sue Greenwald has suggested building a continuing care facility for the elderly in the downtown area, particularly at the PG&E site. I have no idea how feasible an idea that is, nor how practical. If I were to sum up my estimation of the situation, I have more questions than answers. But what I do know is it is not effective planning to have developers driving the process rather than being an integral part of it. My hope is that by inviting developers to speak with commissioners, perhaps we can help frame projects that better serve the needs of the city. Call me an eternal optimist!

Lessons to be learned: Statistics can be twisted to derive whatever result is desired. It will be very important for both the City Council and the public to take a very hard, skeptical look at the data. Allowing developers to drive the planning process will end in disaster, but making them an integral part is an absolute necessity. Developers are not inherently evil because they want to make a profit. However, land use planning should ultimately be decided by those who have no hidden agendas or built in conflicts of interest. Citizens should keep an open mind to development, but make sure it will meet internal needs that the city can afford.

From a personal perspective, I think the City of Davis should push hard for more business before it considers additional housing. We need greater sales tax revenue to pay for the inevitable increase in basic city services that will come with the expansion of residential housing development.


As part of the county planning committee, to develop the Yolo Operational Area People With Disabilities and the Elderly Annex (PWD/E Annex), I can give some insight into the multi-county emergency planning process that is currently taking place. Yolo is part of a ten county disaster preparedness project, that is attempting to build regional specific template designs of emergency shelters for the elderly and disabled in time of disaster. The individual counties will then “fill in the blanks” with details that will work for their particular area.

If a flood should occur in this county, the most likely emergency event for our region, the Yolo Office of Emergency Services will use the PWD/E Annex to form emergency shelters for the elderly and disabled, a special needs population. However, this Annex is only a small piece of an overarching emergency protocol, which as yet is still in the planning stages. The overall plan is expected to be completed in approximately 9 months. The Hurricane Katrina debacle served as a stark lesson on how not to do things when a state of emergency occurs.

Approximately 20 dedicated volunteers from various agencies and community based organizations have been diligently working on the Annex. Many times I expressed my concern that it was not addressing the harder issues of: 1) finding transportation to the shelter; 2) how to identify and notify vulnerable populations, especially those not appearing on any list; 3) developing memorandums of understanding between entities to ensure cooperation in an emergency; 4) educating the public as well as facilities for the elderly in regard to their responsibilities in any state of emergency.

I was assured that those topics would eventually be addressed at some time in this mammoth process. Apparently our group worked so efficiently and diligently, we have to wait for the other nine counties to catch up with us! Because we are the smallest of the ten counties, I suspect the delay may have to do with many counties having more complex considerations because they are more urban in nature. Large cities bring their own specialized problems to the table. The State of CA itself has some overall concerns of its own that need to be focused on as well. I will keep you posted as to any further progress.

Lessons to be learned: Prepare, prepare, prepare for emergencies, at all levels. As the county readies itself for future natural or manmade catastrophes, so must the public and senior facilities. All segments of the community must take on the responsibility of disaster preparedness.


On April 12th, Social Services Director Rose Levinson, Davis Senior Citizens Commissioner George Hinkle and I put on the “Fun Time Follies” at Eleanor Roosevelt Circle (ERC). It was a concert designed to promote intergenerational interplay between young and old alike, the intergenerational aspect being the brainchild of Lamar Heystek. Often seniors have nothing to do on weekends, feeling isolated and lonely. Rose, George and I decided it was high time to provide senior citizens with some weekend entertainment.

Originally the idea germinated by creating an informal group of musicians to play at Eleanor Roosevelt Circle. The residents there are stuck way out at the end of town, and have no facility bus. They seemed starving for something to do, and surprisingly the residents themselves have some pretty hefty musical talent. A little combo formed, called the Geriatric Generation Jammers (Jammers for short), consisting of Janet on accordion, George and June on ukulele, Sid on guitar while crooning Latin tunes, myself on flute. Aldo, a resident at ERC, belts out songs with superb operatic style. Robert on keyboard and base has recently hopped aboard our group.

The Jammers meet the first Saturday of each month from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at ERC - and has a blast! Anyone who wants to join in the fun may drop in to either play with us, or just enjoy singing along, clapping, dancing, or sit back and listen to good music. (There is no charge.) Just about any song is fair game for us, if we can find the sheet music for it. We’ve played just about every style of composition, from classical to rock, sprinkled with various golden oldies.

The April 12th concert itself was a huge success. About 60 people attended, on a warm spring day. At least half the audience were residents of ERC. Mayor Sue Greenwald was kind enough to grace us with her presence. Food was donated by Konditerei and Ciocolat. Nugget and Safeway supplied gift cards so residents could purchase ingredients for making special food. Other residents kept the punch bowl filled, the service flowing smoothly, and provided decorations. Those in attendance munched on cake, tea sandwiches, fudge, egg rolls, and pastries in an informal café-like atmosphere.

The musical talent was amazing. The Jammers led off with a patriotic medley; Sid and Ramon played guitar while Sid sang Latin tunes as he walked around the room; Ramon riffed off a few jazz guitar numbers; Aldo gave a stirring rendition of opera selections and popular tunes; Robert provided keyboard and bass accompaniment; a High School Madrigal octet performed some lovely numbers; and the show was rounded out by a jazz duo playing trumpet and piano - who were so popular they were asked to do an encore.

I honestly don’t know who had a better time, the players or the audience! All the musicians are eager to put on another performance; and listeners begged to know when the next concert would be. As it turns out, there are plans in the works to have another resoundingly successful event on October 25, 2008 - so put that date on your calendars! Our hope is to open up the doors to the patio off the Community Room at ERC, to make space for even more people to attend. It was an honor and a privilege to be part of such a wonderful event, and a special thanks goes to Rose Levinson and George Hinkle, without whom this experiment would never have been possible!

As an aside, when the Jammers were initially formed and first started to play, a resident from ERC was so delighted to have such entertainment, she demanded to know when we were coming back. To our great disappointment, she passed away a few days later. The group was honored to have made her last few days on earth a little brighter. Another ERC resident seems to know the name of every tune we play. Thus far we have not been able to stump this sharp cookie! Seniors have clapped and sung along as we play with gusto, and it is not unknown for them to get up and dance a polka when the proper mood strikes. What a joy it is to play for such an appreciative audience.

Lessons to be learned: You are never too old to learn new tricks! Nor to be a vital part of the community. Enjoy life to its fullest by being a participant rather than just an observer, even if all you do is sing along or support an event by just showing up.

Elaine Roberts Musser is an attorney who concentrates her efforts on elder law and aging issues, especially in regard to consumer affairs. If you have a comment or particular question or topic you would like to see addressed in this column, please make your observations at the end of this article in the comment section.