Elkhart's elderly population grows but shortage of senior housing worsens, study says

The Elkhart Senior Housing Study says there could be an overall unmet housing demand of more than 1,800 units over the next five years.

Posted on March 22, 2014 at 2:33 p.m.

ELKHART — An already under-supplied market for senior housing in Elkhart will not meet the mounting needs of the city's growing senior population, according to a new study of the issue.

There could be an overall unmet housing demand of more than 1,800 units over the next five years, with a majority of those units needed by low- and moderate-income residents, concluded the Elkhart Senior Housing Study, released this week by Development Concepts Inc. under contract by the city of Elkhart's redevelopment commission.

Crystal Welsh, head of the city's community and redevelopment department, said the study will help the city apply for federal grants related to senior housing and provide private sector developers with evidence of the need for more senior housing.

"I think the take-away message is that we have a growing senior population that have a variety of housing and service needs," Welsh said. "This study is designed to help us, the entire community, not just the city, formulate plans, programs and policies moving forward."

The study identifies the need for more subsidized and market rate housing for seniors, a population projected to increase by 25 percent over the next five years as the baby boomers age.

Tammy Friesen, executive director of the Council on Aging of Elkhart County, said she felt "justification" after reading the 24-page report. She has been asking city and county government for funding since taking her position four years ago, but has had little success.

"People will step up and help children in the community really quickly but they don't want to help the aging population," Friesen said. "I always get the proverbial, 'No, sorry, we can't help you. I always get the brush-off. I hope this report helps people to start paying attention to (seniors). They're the ones that built Elkhart County. We need to say, 'thank you.'"

Friesen said her nonprofit organization is trying to help more seniors remain in their homes, called "aging in place," rather than move into nursing homes, which ultimately cost individuals and taxpayers more. For example, this year the group is working with LaCasa, the nonprofit housing development organziation, to modify senior's homes so that they can either have their bedroom on the ground floor, or by adding wheelchair ramps onto the front of the house.

There are some nice assisted living facilities in Elkhart, but they can cost from $2,000 to $5,000 a month, depending on the level of services needed. That's unaffordable for many seniors, she said.

Friesen noted that the senior population increase projected in the study, while significant, might actually be undercounted if area economic development groups succeed in their mission to draw more millenials and young working professionals to the community. With rising health care costs and cuts to Medicare and Medicaid spending on the horizon, more seniors could turn to their children for care, bringing more seniors to the community as well.

Elkhart Senior Housing Study


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