Senior Housing Issues Deserve Action, Not Just More Talk

Florida is aging, and as it gets older, there is a need for affordable, quality housing to meet the needs of our senior population. Fortunately, both Wellington and Royal Palm Beach are exploring ways to meet this need. According to the AARP, by 2030, one in every five Americans will be over age 65, and the nation will face a severe shortage in appropriate housing to meet the unique needs of seniors. In Florida, which retirees have been moving to in droves for decades, it’s even more of a pressing issue.

But senior housing issues are far more complex than most think when first broaching the concept. There’s a variety of different types of facilities which can be described as “senior living facilities.” They can be more expensive than what local governments can afford to build and maintain without assistance from the private sector. And many believe that the government should keep its hands out of the senior housing market altogether.

At the root of the topic is that fact that as people age, they need housing that is structurally and mechanically safe and that accommodates people with disabilities. They also need safe communities, adequate transportation options, and access to grocery stores, doctors and community activities. Furthermore, the upkeep common with suburban living may be above the abilities of many seniors. Both Royal Palm Beach and Wellington have been discussing this issue for many years. Perhaps now is the time that dealing with this issue stops being an election-time talking point and starts becoming a concrete plan.

The Wellington Village Council recently sent a report on senior housing to its Senior Advisory Committee, with several council members showing an interest in using a 10-acre village-owned parcel near the Mall at Wellington Green for some type of senior living facility in the future, likely through some type of a public-private partnership. Wellington’s senior population is increasing, from around 8 percent in 2000 to around 13 percent today, which means there are already approximately 8,000 seniors residing in the village.

Meanwhile, Royal Palm Beach is further along in the senior housing process. The Harvin Center, itself nearly old enough for senior housing, is tentatively scheduled for demolition to make way for a senior living facility at the edge of Royal Palm Beach Commons Park. The project has been approved conceptually, but is still far from reality. The 10-acre parcel could accommodate between 120 and 180 units, according to consultant Phil Gonot of PMG Associates. In 2014, Gonot examined the supply and demand for different types of senior housing, including reviewing demographics of the 65-and-over population, as well as a slightly younger population who might be looking to put their parents in such a facility. In existing senior housing within a 10-mile radius from the site, the consultant found high levels of occupancy — suggesting that the market certainly needs more options.

It isn’t just housing needs that local communities are analyzing. After all, what good is senior housing if there’s nothing recreational or entertaining for local seniors? Royal Palm Beach is looking at this very question as part of a planned expansion of the Royal Palm Beach Cultural Center, and has scheduled a workshop meeting for Thursday, Feb. 11 at 6:30 p.m. at the Cultural Center (151 Civic Center Way). The estimated $1.2 million plan is currently in the pre-design stage, and includes a large meeting room that can divide into four smaller rooms to enable separate functions at the same time. Wellington, meanwhile, is just a few months away from opening its new Wellington Community Center, specifically designed with the needs of senior citizens in mind.

Yet on the topic of housing, more than a decade of inaction has left area communities scrambling to resolve the issue before it becomes a more serious problem. As residents who have lived for decades in the western communities look toward the next phase of their lives, it behooves us all to provide the necessary housing options nearby, so they will not have to spend their golden years elsewhere.