County agencies prep as seniors choose to age in place

Tjefferson@vagazette.com

More than 27,000 people in Williamsburg, James City and York counties are 65 or older, and many of them will have to decide whether to keep the homes they raised their families in or downsize.

The decision is one home builders, real estate agents and municipal planners are watching closely.

As more seniors choose to age in place and millennials begin their search for homes to buy, the need for diversified housing options will become a pressing need nationwide, according to a study by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University.

For seniors, aging in place means renovating their homes to include handrails, creating easy access bathtubs and reducing slippery surfaces. Those residents may also need one-on-one respite care.

The trend to age in place is especially significant in James City County where nearly one in every four residents is 65 or older, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2015 statistics. The county's median age of 45 is the oldest on the Peninsula.

In addition, 87 percent of people 65 or older are choosing to age in place, according to a 2014 AARP study.

Lauren McWilliams and his wife, Berta, lived in their house on Queen Crescent Drive since 2005. As Lauren aged, he looked to Faith in Action for help.

Faith In Action is a nonprofit agency that provides services for seniors 60 or older and helps with everyday tasks like transportation, housekeeping and respite care.

On Thursday afternoon, Norman Larkin, a Faith In Action volunteer, made his way to Queen Crescent Drive for his weekly visit with Lauren.

Larkin has visited Lauren for the past 14 years.

"We talk, once in a while we get coffee, or Norman will take me to get something I need," McWilliams said.

"We talk about what's on the news, talk about birds, the weather, the church, I bring him books from my men's bible class," Larkin said. "(Lauren) has a lot of fun."

The Peninsula Agency on Aging is another nonprofit group that provides services and supports people's desire to age in place safely, regardless of their income.

Buying boomers' homes

Seniors who stay in their homes create some unintended consequences.

Williamsburg Area Association of Realtors chief executive officer Lisa Noon said many baby boomers choose to age in place because new homes aren't built to accommodate their needs. She said an abundance of homes in the area are not fitted with features like grab bars in the showers and wider hallways.

"If you're 65 you have a couple of choices: retrofit your home to accommodate your needs or buy a new home that already has those amenities," Noon said. "The problem is there are not enough of those type of homes being built. There's going to be in an interesting shift in the marketplace over the next 10 years."

What's the solution? Noon says more diversified housing.

James City County conducted its own housing survey last year and identified the need for more affordable long-term homes. Other recommendations included improving the living conditions in existing homes and reducing the cost burden on low wage workers.

Paul Holt, county planning director, said the county is creating a housing task force this year to work on the recommendations.

"The bottom line is that it takes an annual household income of at least $35,000 to secure decent housing in the county, and every worker falling under that line is a household that is likely to commute (and thus add to congestion) or under-maintain their housing (and thus contribute to a weaker tax base)," according to the county study.

The median sale price for a home in the Historic Triangle is $343,000, according to the Williamsburg Area Association of Realtors.

"We see a need for workforce housing, and we see a need to maintain the housing that we already have," said Vaughn Poller, county neighborhood development administrator. "The study was to look at the conditions on the ground."

Poller said the county's housing study also found seniors chose to stay in their homes longer.

Looking forward

"We're still seeing quite a robust growth projection and robust population growth," Holt said.

With the number of residential lots that can be potentially developed, Holt estimates a 20-30 year supply of potential undeveloped housing.

"We don't see where we are going to have a pinch point," Holt said. "If I'm in a built out community like Hampton or Newport News without new homes coming on line, that could be an issue but we don't have that issue in James City because we're still growing and have room to grow."

Holt said the task force will be responsible for making housing recommendations to better support economic development.

"As we continue to attract new jobs, we want to make sure we have a housing stock available and in place to support those new businesses and growing businesses," Holt said. "The last thing we want to do is to try and recruit businesses and attract new economic development growth and have all those new employees live somewhere else."

Jefferson can be reached by phone at 757-790-9313.

Copyright © 2019, The Virginia Gazette
79°