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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Commission Looks At a Variety of Senior Housing Needs

The Senior Citizens Commission met on Thursday. Along with the Social Services Commission they have been working on a proposed set of housing guidelines that will become increasingly important in the city as we move toward a full blown discussion on Senior Housing Needs. It is important to identify such needs independently of developer driven housing demands that we have already begun to see come forward such as the one we saw last week in the Davis Enterprise which is pushing for an 800-unit complex at the Covell Village site. The city of Davis on the other hand, has projected the senior housing needs for the next five years or so at a much more modest 150 units.

However it is important to recognize that Senior housing has a very particularized array of specific housing needs, and these needs need to be understood and incorporated into the general discussion on housing.

For example:
"The Commissions support the expressed preference for a variety of housing options that allows individuals to remain in their own homes, more commonly referred to as aging-in-place."
Part of that means that houses can be built in such as a way that they can be adapted and modified to meet the needs of an aging population. That means doorways wide enough to potentially accommodate wheel chair access, that means that the general housing structure is made so that they can be modified to accommodate a senior occupant without having to rip the house apart.

The report goes on to say:
"The Commissions place importance on providing housing that can address the specific needs of seniors and other special needs populations within the city's general housing stock, while also recognizing the need for some specialized housing options."
Here are some of the key issues that highlight this report.

The issue of accessibility and visitability is crucial. A lot of older homes, people with wheel chairs simply would not have access to in order to even visit. They discuss making a checklist of desirable features that would provide better access and usability in the housing unit.

These features could include:
"zero threshold entry, exterior and interior paths of travel, accessible half or full bathroom, accessible common room on the ground level."
They also put in language to "ensure affordable rental projects include fully accessible and visitable units..."

Transportation is crucial of course:
"Continue to promote and encourage public transit as an affordable and environmentally-sound alternative to personal vehicles."
Issues that are raised include good access to public transit, provisions for electric and alternative fuel vehicles for shared resident use and the infrastructure to support the use of these vehicles. Finally ensure adequate greenbelt and bike path connectivity.

"Provide a variety of housing types and prices, including city subsidized, affordable and middle income housing requirements in an effort to provide housing opportunities at a range of income levels."
Housing options:
"Promote various housing models in new housing developments that could accommodate seniors and other special needs groups."
The report suggests that there needs to be a determination of the need for housing.
"Determination of housing type should be accomplished in response to the expressed desires of the community through local outreach and measurements of local demand...

Independent Market analysis--market analysis of the true community need for housing should be done by an independent consultant."
The analysis should speak to issues of affordability, marketability, senior or special needs preferences, and current waitlists.

A couple more key senior-specific issues when looking at development of senior housing facilities.

One is on-site support staff:
"The need for medical, clinical, or psychological supportive staff and program planning and referral staff should be considered...."
Other services:
"The need for meal services, health services, recreational services and other basic life services being provided on-site should be considered."
A big issue that came up with the Eleanor Roosevelt project had to do with the location and proximity to busing. It appears that busing is close. But as the commission pointed out that is deceiving. The distance requires a walk that is prohibitive for the less physically able. Moreover it requires navigation across a busy city street.

Thus they suggest two provisions:
"If public transit access is located in excess of 200 feet from the housing project, then an on-site shuttle service should be considered for use by residents.

All multi-unit housing projects should consider providing a shuttle for use by residents."
It is understood that this is cost prohibitive and that small facilities would have greater difficulty doing this, however, they believe the term "should consider" mitigates that consideration and they want these guidelines at least considered and these issues raised at the time of development.

Location is important and they identify the need for housing to be built near public transit lines if there is no on-site shuttle, near a neighborhood shopping center especially with a grocery store and pharmacy, and near a medical facility that could provide both general health services and prescriptions.

I think this gets back to the issue of the need for neighborhood grocery stores but also neighborhood pharmacies. If we are going to have an aging population in Davis, having convenient pharmacies will be increasingly important.

These will be guidelines as the commission pointed out throughout the discussion, they will not be requirements. But I think all housing projects should keep these issues in mind for both seniors, but also for people with a variety of disabilities. This is a good start the housing discussion we are going to need to have over the coming months and years as our population continues to age.

---David M. Greenwald reporting