This region has made strides when it comes to the construction of senior housing, but it has a long way to go.
As the Western New York population ages and the "gray drain" continues, more and more suburban community leaders have recognized the need for older residents to have somewhere - besides Florida - to live. Over the past few decades, more and more elected officials have realized that what was once the Holy Grail of residential property tax creation, single-family home construction, is not where the greatest housing need exists.
In the Buffalo Niagara region, nearly 16 percent of all residents are age 65 or older, compared with less than 14 percent statewide. Yet, the number of people in that age group has actually dropped by 8 percent in the last decade, a reversal of the statewide growth trend for this age group.
Many blame this senior population loss on the lack of senior housing. There is a huge need for housing for senior citizens, and as a result, patio homes, town homes and other types of upscale, market-rate housing have sprung up in towns filled with empty nesters who are looking to downsize yet still stay close to the grandkids.
But when the discussion shifts to "affordable" senior housing, suddenly suburban communities start getting a lot less excited about welcoming such projects. As noted in a recent front-page story, the nonprofit human services agency People Inc. has had great difficulty finding locations for subsidized housing projects for senior citizens in some suburban communities.
In general, residents in these communities tend to take the position that they already have senior housing in their towns and they don't need more - especially not a project at that location/with those sewer lines/with those tax breaks/if it's not guaranteed to serve our own (mostly white) town residents. Rarely will you find the same public outcry when a developer is talking about upscale patio homes, which also qualify for tax breaks, that target an older market and will each sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Just last year the University at Buffalo released a report stating that 40 years after the passage of the federal Fair Housing Act, Erie County's suburbs are rife with discrimination and segregation. Any kind of subsidized housing, including the kind meant for seniors, tends to meet with resistance. No one ever says they fear poor people and minorities moving into their upper-middle-class backyards, but the pattern is a little too predictable to not see the truth for what it is.
Here's a greater truth. Of the Erie County population age 65 and older, nearly 20 percent live within 150 percent of the poverty level. That's nearly one out of every five senior citizens living here in our community. Don't they deserve a place to live, too? Perhaps even a place near their suburb-raised children and grandchildren?
They won't be rich, and they probably won't all be white, but they still belong to our community. We should consider it our civic responsibility and privilege to provide them safe, decent and affordable shelter.