The Senior Segment: City must prepare for increase in aging Detroiters

The Senior Segment: City must prepare for increase in aging Detroiters
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The topic of metro Detroit senior living hits close to home, literally, for Tahirih Ziegler.

Aside from her professional charge as executive director of Detroit Local Initiatives Support Corp. (LISC), she has a mother who suffers from Alzheimer’s and lives in a nursing facility. What Ziegler’s mom has in common with many local seniors, healthy and otherwise, is a need for quality, affordable housing options.

As a key community development financial institution, LISC is helping lead a conversation about addressing ways to keep elders in their homes and increase residency in Detroit. There is an unmet demand particularly among ages 55 and older, Ziegler says.

“Specifically in Detroit, our population is very young,” she adds.

Among the young residents are a significant number of children being raised by their grandparents, which presents an even more unique need and affordability scenario in such households.

By 2040, senior households in Detroit, which represented about 23 percent of the city in 2010, are projected to expand to about 35 percent.

“If we continue in the trajectory that we’re on, and we continue to lose population heading toward 2025 … as we think about seniors living on fixed incomes and Social Security … there is going to be a need for some options, and affordable is in that mix,” says Ziegler.

Joe Schilling, project manager for the Washington-based Urban Institute’s ongoing research effort, “Detroit Housing Market: Challenges and Innovations for a Path Forward,” agrees. By 2040, senior households in Detroit, which represented about 23 percent of the city in 2010, are projected to expand to about 35 percent.

Proximity to doctor’s offices, bus line service, and other conveniences have become increasingly important to Detroiters who’ve aged in the city.

“If you look at the demographic changes, as baby boomers are aging, there’s going to be a much greater demand for a variety of housing options for senior citizens, beyond what we normally think of as the senior village or assisted living,” Schilling says. “But we’ll be thinking about other options that allow seniors to age in place.”

Joe Shilling sees big changes ahead for cities like Detroit, whose senior populations will create a “silver tsunami.”  

Leaving the workforce has traditionally contributed to reducing senior housing needs, as many relocate or downsize, “but, as we know, that golden age of 65 is no longer our retirement threshold,” Schilling says.

Lengthier employment will require maintaining single-family homes or apartments within reasonable distance from job sites.

Funded by the J. P. Morgan Chase Foundation, part of the Urban Institute’s five-year study is “in the early stages of investigating how senior housing will play out in Detroit and in the inner-ring suburban communities,” Schilling adds.

Among other findings, from 2000 to 2014 the research shows the Detroit region, including Wayne and adjacent counties, lost 400,000 residents between ages 25 and 44.

As a city that was a destination for black families in the Great Migration north to auto industry and factory jobs, decades later Detroit has produced a senior population with diminished community resources. Ironically, ongoing “black flight” to the suburbs is one factor in the housing generation gap between young adults and middle-aged residents and elders who stayed behind, Ziegler says.

Proximity to doctor’s offices, bus line service, and other conveniences have become increasingly important to Detroiters who’ve aged in the city.

Tahirih Ziegler, executive director of Detroit LISC, is helping lead conversations regarding the need to diversify neighborhood housing and meet new market demands.

“People have built social support over the years, and they don’t just want to pack up and leave,” Ziegler says.

Not only in Detroit and other parts of Michigan is the senior population becoming more prominent. Nationally, seniors are expected to represent almost 20 percent of the country by 2040, research shows. But the Detroit region is expected to reflect almost 24 percent in 2040, according to Southeast Michigan Council of Governments. With ongoing, projected population loss, Detroit’s baby boomer generation, those born between 1946 and 1964, is expected to further expand the ratio of seniors living in the city.

But, with support from forward-thinking developers and city leaders, Ziegler says Detroit LISC is eager to take on the challenge. Discussions with coalitions like Senior Housing Preservation Detroit, which advocates for affordability and accommodation, are underway.

While the entire city faces the ongoing task of balancing gentrification and displacement with new market interests, inclusion is an ongoing challenge. But support for elders will remain a LISC priority.

“We can all get behind seniors,” Ziegler says.

Editor’s Note: To learn more about Detroit LISC visit them at: lisc.org/detroit

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