It’s estimated that over the next 15-20 years our state’s senior population will nearly double. In Santa Cruz County, our senior population is growing at a similar rate and our seniors population faces a number of challenges — many of which will require renewed commitments budgetary and otherwise, to ensure we meet.
Recently, the Seniors Council also took a look at population shifts and found that overall in Santa Cruz County, approximately 24 percent of residents are over the age of 60. Seniors make up similar percentages of population within the cities of Capitola, Watsonville, Scotts Valley and Santa Cruz. Last year, the Seniors Council and Area Agency on Aging for Santa Cruz and San Benito Counties held a summit that looked into some of the challenges face seniors and proposed some potential solutions.
Here is a short overview of those issues and ways that the County, non-profits and the community at-large can work to address them.
Over 25,000 Santa Cruz County seniors do not have enough income to pay for their basic needs. Many seniors have fixed incomes but expenses are not fixed. Rising housing costs which has increased local homelessness in people age 50 and up, and rising medical, transportation and food costs all are having a significant impact. According to a recent survey, 90 percent of local Meals on Wheels participants say there’s a time each month when they don’t have enough money for food.
Additionally, many seniors surveyed locally noted that paying for dental care is a significant challenge. As dental care isn’t covered by Medicare (and even though it was recently restored through MediCal) many seniors are without dental coverage all together.
On top of dental care, paying for health care costs in general (costs not covered by Medicare) are difficult for seniors on a fixed income. A local survey also highlighted challenges with access to behavioral health for seniors, especially as it relates to issues around isolation and depression. More than 1 in 3 seniors cited in this survey concerns about isolation and mental health challenges.
What housing options are available for seniors?
Housing stability (affordable, safe options) is often at top of the list. Allowing the promotion of healthy aging and aging in place is important. Increasing senior-specific housing (like the recent St. Stephens development on Soquel) co-housing options, accessory dwelling units (ADUs), mobile / manufactured homes and more deed-restricted affordable housing are all part of the equation. Put simply, there is a need for increased supply of housing and specifically housing that would benefit seniors — including affordable housing for those with very limited income.
Recently, the County eliminated nearly all County fees for ADU construction for units 640 square feet or smaller. Additionally, the County significantly streamlined the permit (and time associated with permitting) process for ADUs. This is an option for seniors looking to possibly move into an ADU while allowing their family to take over the main residence or rent (long term) the main home for income.
To increase their numbers and partnering with non-profit developers to look for more senior-specific housing development options. Additionally, the County has been working on our affordable housing rules to encourage more deed-restricted affordable housing creation and working, even through the courts when necessary, to protect affordability in local mobile/manufactured home parks.
The Housing Authority of the County of Santa Cruz is the largest provider of affordable housing in our county. The Authority currently assists over 5,000 low-income families with rental assistance with a notable percentage of households receiving assistance having seniors residing in the household.
How can you get involved or seek services?
The County has a Seniors Commission that meets regularly and advises the Board of Supervisors on these important issues. For more information call (831) 454-2772. You can always volunteer for wonderful non-profits including Meals on Wheels (or request services) at https://communitybridges.org/mealsonwheels/ — Senior Networks Services connects seniors to local services at www.seniornetworkservices.org — as does the Seniors Council — www.seniorscouncil.org. The Housing Authority can be reached at (831) 454-9455 or at hacosantacruz.org.
This is just a short list of some of the challenges facing our local senior population. Even though great work is being done every day on this issue by local non-profits and local government, much more will need to be done.
As always, I appreciate hearing your thoughts. Feel free to call me at 454-2200.