Jeffco’s burgeoning elderly population could force the county to help create more senior housing and public transportation in the coming years, a recently released study on aging shows.
The three-year study, titled Aging Well in Jefferson County, was compiled on the premise that the number of residents 60 and over will double by 2030. It predicts heightened demand for civic-engagement programs and accessible information about programs such as Medicare.
The study involved more than 70 county employees from multiple departments and tens of thousands of hours of staff time. It also included a survey of more than 1,300 elderly residents and analyses of current needs for services, demands over the last 20 years and forecasts for the next two decades.
“There’s a lack of senior housing in South Jefferson County,” said Susan Franklin, a project manager for the county’s human services department.
Specifically, Jeffco has an existing gap in affordable housing and assisted-living facilities. The current vacancy rate for affordable senior housing is about 2 percent. By contrast, the vacancy rate for multi-family rental property is 6.5 percent. More than 3,700 low-income residents were on a waiting list for Section 8 rental-assistance vouchers at the time of the study, showing a severe lack of housing for people earning less than $16,000 annually.
Similarly, the county offers few affordable respite-care accommodations. Care-management programs, which offer resources such as help for caregivers in filling out paperwork, are also scant in Jeffco.
“There are some places that provide respite care, but it’s not enough, and it’s very expensive,” Franklin said.
Further, housing resources specifically for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender elders, who account for an estimated 7 to 10 percent of the senior population, are scarce or nonexistent.
And demand for beds at homeless shelters, particularly by elderly men and veterans, is also reportedly growing.
Regarding mobility, the percentage of Jeffco seniors using public transit increased from 1 percent in 1994 to 4 percent in 2004. But despite the increase, most residents between ages 65 and 75 continue to commute in personal cars and trucks.
Inadequate funding, particularly for disabled-accessible public transportation, has kept the availability of such services behind current needs. And though South Jeffco has sufficient bus service, few routes exist in rural and mountain neighborhoods.
“There’s a lot of transportation providers, but they don’t necessarily service the mountain community,” Franklin said.
Also in short supply are affordable home-maintenance providers, including companies that remove snow and perform yard work such as tree trimming. A partial solution, the study suggests, would include compiling a public directory of reputable companies.
According to the survey, a growing desire of seniors is to maintain an active role in the community, particularly through meaningful volunteer work. Increasingly, more people are looking for volunteer positions that utilize specific skills they developed in their careers.
“The No. 1 need right now in Jefferson County is civic engagement,” Franklin said. “Folks really want to stay involved with the community. They want to be involved in their government. They want to volunteer.”
Challenges in maintaining volunteer positions, respondents said, included a lack of schedule flexibility and reliable transportation. Creating new volunteer programs to help place seniors in appropriate positions and develop their skills could help address the problem, the study states.
“Volunteers, anymore, want to continue to use their professional skills,” Franklin said. “Governments, businesses and nonprofits really don’t know how to support volunteers. … There’s a huge need for us to develop volunteer programs.”
By 2020, the county will have about 170,000 residents over 60, the largest population of seniors in the state, the study reports.
“The number of folks who are aging is increasing dramatically,” Franklin said. “It’s coming. We know it’s coming. So it shouldn’t be a crisis that we’re preparing for.”