I recently brought my 91-year-old father and 84-year-old mother back from Phoenix because of concerns we have for them living on their own.
It highlighted an issue that I have been attempting to address for some time: that we don’t have assisted or even independent living facilities within walking distance of our downtown business district. Statistics indicate that the aging baby boomers are becoming a significant demographic and we need to plan for a community that is inclusive of our senior population.
Aging in place here is difficult, as the cost of living, maintenance costs, and property taxes are just a few of the many financial problems facing seniors on a fixed income. The immediate future holds no promises from our federal government on maintaining social security, Medicare and other programs at rates that don’t further erode retirement plans. I don’t anticipate health care costs will decrease with deregulation and many people are at risk of losing access to health insurance completely.
There are few houses that are accessible here in town and even if there weren’t a set of steps to get into the house, there might not be a bathroom on the first floor or any way to use the second floor on a daily basis. It costs money to heat and cool the house to maintain a comfortable environment and that also impacts budgets negatively.
Many citizens can’t afford internet access to be connected to information and services. The Charter program I helped implement will allow children to get affordable internet access that otherwise would have a disadvantage in keeping up with their school work. The program , however, sets the bar at a level where few seniors qualify for the reduced rate. My senior Internet cafe plan would provide for hardware and support through grants and donations, and discounts at our coffee shops at allocated times to encourage seniors to gather and socialize and remain a vital voice in our community.
If we had an independent living facility that had a good location and amenities, our seniors could downsize, sell their homes, eliminate many costs, add to their savings, lead more active lifestyle and not have to move from their hometown. Those homes would be purchased and fixed up by young families wanting to send their children to MRH and enjoy the benefits that living in Maplewood provide.
But there has to be a viable alternative that currently does not exist. The joint senior commission we are beginning to assemble with Brentwood and Richmond Heights will be a great start to help align our aging population with the many existing programs (like the circuit breaker tax reduction program) and services that can make lives easier and more vibrant.
I have worked towards making Maplewood more sustainable and walkable and there is still much work to be done. These are just some of the issues that should be incorporated into a comprehensive plan update. This process accommodates public input and interaction to make sure the decisions our future elected officials make are in line with the needs of our citizens. The question is not whether we can afford to do it, it is rather can we afford not to do it for the continued success of our beloved Maplewood community.
As most everyone knows, I am running for mayor in April and I look forward to input from our citizens, businesses and schools in helping shape the brightest future we can achieve.