Woods officials respond to senior survey results

By: Jeremy Selweski | Woodward Talk | Published January 8, 2013

HUNTINGTON WOODS — With an aging city population, in which the number of residents ages 65 and older is projected to skyrocket during the next 30 years, Huntington Woods has already begun working to make sure that its senior citizens are well-accommodated.

The results of the city’s recent senior survey, which were presented to the City Commission at its Dec. 18 meeting, were surprising to many Woods officials. The 36-page document shows that, not only is the number of older residents expected to rise significantly, but there is a very strong demand for additional home maintenance services and alternative housing options.

According to statistics from the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, the number of Woods residents ages 65 and older is projected to increase from 846 in the 2010 U.S. Census to 1,731 by the year 2040. This represents a remarkable growth of about 105 percent throughout a 30-year period.

The senior survey received responses from 698 Woods residents ages 50 and older. More than half of those residents stated that they would need help with home repairs and snow removal, while more than 40 percent expressed the need for help with home and lawn maintenance and fall yard cleanup. Many others indicated that they would need assistance with tasks ranging from household chores and transportation to shopping and home health care.

In addition, many of those surveyed expressed interest in senior housing alternatives. About 75 percent stated that they would like to see condominiums in Huntington Woods, while 71 percent were supportive of apartments, 59 percent favored housing with provided meals and 54 percent indicated a desire for assisted-living facilities.

City Manager Alex Allie largely attributed the city’s changing demographics to an aging population filled with residents from one particular generation.

“The baby boomers are getting older, but most of them are staying put in their homes instead of moving away,” he said. “For a city like Huntington Woods, which is dominated by single-family homes, we knew that was going to create some issues that we needed to address. So we wanted to study some of those evolving trends and prioritize the needs of our seniors, as we move forward.”

According to Allie, to cope with its aging demographics, Huntington Woods formed a senior advisory committee in 2010. It was the committee — which currently consists of five resident members but may soon expand to seven — that developed the idea to pursue a senior survey. The yearlong project was paid for by a $5,000 grant from the Huntington Woods Men’s Club and conducted by Wayne State University’s Institute of Gerontology.

The survey results proved to be quite illuminating and gave city officials a clearer compass to follow.

“It showed us that the greatest need that people have in Huntington Woods is assistance with repairing and maintaining their homes,” Allie said. “We want to be able provide as many services as possible so that people can continue to live independently, while also offering good alternative-housing options for those who want them.”

But that process is easier said than done. Allie indicated that, with city finances already being stretched to the limit, many of the requested home maintenance services may need to be provided by community volunteers or funded by grant money. In addition, while city officials may soon be studying the possibility of adding alternative housing in Huntington Woods, Allie stressed that the plan could take “quite a number of years” to develop.

Mayor Ron Gillham also noted that it may prove challenging for a fully developed community like Huntington Woods to find space for condominiums, apartments and other senior facilities.

“We are kind of limited, in terms of our geography, for building new housing developments,” he admitted, “but we do have a lot of folks who really love living here and want to continue living here. The whole idea of this survey was to see, ‘How can we be more effective in helping our seniors get the services they need?’”

One solution could be to establish a time bank in the city. Gillham pointed out that Huntington Woods may soon be joining forces with Royal Oak to create the increasingly popular service, in which time functions as currency and residents perform jobs for one another in exchange for other jobs.

The senior survey also suggested that many Woods residents have a continued desire for recreational activities, social interaction, civic engagement and volunteer opportunities as they age.

“We have many very active, healthy seniors who want to have lots of special events and activities at their disposal, in order to remain socially active,” Allie said. “A huge number of them are also more than willing to volunteer their time and help out in the community.”

According to Gillham, the bottom line is that Woods officials need to be prepared as the city’s population grows older. Even residents who expressed no interest in most of these services on the senior survey may one day find themselves in need of a helping hand.

“One of the problems that a lot of older folks have is that pride often gets in the way,” Gillham said. “There are things that they just can’t do by themselves anymore, but they want to believe that they still can. Yes, there are limits to what we can provide, as a city, but we always try to do as much as we can for our residents. We want to keep people living here as long as we possibly can.”