By Chelsea Schneider Kirk
When Frances Wulf, 92, made the decision to stop driving and sell her car, she began to look for her next step.
Wulf, who moved to Valparaiso from Wisconsin to be near her kids about three years ago, had lived independently until the age of 91. One day, Wulf surprised her daughter by saying she wanted to look at the rooms at Rittenhouse Senior Living in Valparaiso.
Wulf moved last fall after picking the facility, because she said it felt like she was checking into a hotel and not a hospital.
“When I decided to sell my car, I thought it was time to quit driving. I was having difficulties — I had a thing with the eyes — and I thought before I got in trouble, I better stop,” Wulf said.
Statewide, one in five Hoosiers will be older than 65 by 2030, and the number of seniors is expected to grow locally in the next 20 years as well.
In 2010, seniors comprised 13 percent of Lake County’s population and 12 percent of Porter County’s population. Those numbers jump to 20 percent for Lake County and 21 percent for Porter County by 2030, according to state estimates.
Aimed at responding to the growing demand, Northwest Indiana, specifically Lake County, has seen the construction of a number of senior housing developments.
Residences of Deer Creek on U.S. 30 in Schererville opened in January and offers independent living, assisted living and memory support apartments.
“It’s nice,” said Katharina Makara, 85, of Schererville, who moved into Deer Creek in March. “The atmosphere — you can joke. You can talk.”
Bickford Senior Living in Crown Point is set to open in late summer. The 58-unit complex, which will offer memory care and assisted living, is near 15 percent capacity, director Anthony Ughetti said. In Lowell, Trilogy Health Services is proposing to build a nursing home and assisted living facility near East Commercial Avenue and Burr Street.
Bickford chose Crown Point because of its strong demographics and the need for a non-institutional type of facility that could offer assisted living and memory care, said Alan Fairbanks, an executive vice president with the company.
“In regards to the industry, there is still a tremendous demand that is needed and supply is not there,” Fairbanks said.
“I think what’s happened, there is a tremendous influx of supply on your primary, large markets and your big cities have a lot of supply. There is still a lot of pockets in and around the country where the demand far outpaces the supply.”
Before the recession, a large share of senior housing construction was in independent living, but now activity has shifted to assisted living facilities, according to Chris McGraw, a research analyst for the National Investment Center for the Seniors Housing and Care Industry. The nonprofit tracks construction of assisted living and independent living facilities across the nation.
Construction of assisted living facilities has returned to pre-recession levels, notching up activity for the overall industry, McGraw said. In the first three months of this year, construction of new units represented 2.5 percent of the existing inventory for senior housing. While the percentage is down from the pre-recession peak of 4.8 percent in 2008, it’s up from the 2 percent recorded in early 2011.
Following the recession, the center is seeing fewer freestanding independent living properties break ground but instead more developments that bundle together independent living, assisted living and memory care.
In Lowell’s case, Trilogy approached the town to propose the development. Clerk-Treasurer Judy Walters said Lowell has a need for such housing, given that an existing nursing home in town recently expanded its building.
“It’s just wonderful because it will be in town and you’ll be able to have a loved one right here in town,” Walters said of the Trilogy project.
A growing concern for serving the state’s aging population is the decline in public funding available to support affordable housing for low- to moderate-income seniors.
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funding for public housing has decreased, and tax credit financing for projects, a major originator for affordable housing for seniors, is now more competitive, Center on Aging and Community Director Philip Stafford said.
“It’s an actual serious problem, given the changing demographics and in some ways declining wealth of the current generation of older adults, who took a real hit from the market and don’t have the equity that they did in the past that might make it easier for them to relocate to some other housing or some other environment,” Stafford said.
The Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority, which oversees the distribution of tax credits for new construction and remodeling of affordable rental housing, saw a high demand among senior projects in its latest round of funding, authority spokeswoman Emily Duncan said.
Of the 20 projects that got such tax credits this year, 14 competed in the elderly category of housing developments serving residents 55 and older, Duncan said. A local project not to receive tax credit funding from the agency was a proposed senior housing facility in Robertsdale.
In trying to address needs, some communities have developed policies that privately developed housing must set aside a percentage of units that meet affordability standards, Stafford said.
A February report by the Bipartisan Policy Center found the United States is unprepared to handle the needs of seniors who want to “age in place” by staying in their own homes and communities. Among the commission’s recommendations was better coordination of federal programs, which deliver housing and health care services to seniors, according to an executive summary of the report.
Municipalities are increasingly dedicating HUD funds to help seniors who want to “age in place.” In Hammond, the city uses some of its HUD funding to help residents install ramps and widen stairs to make them more accessible for walkers.
Seniors Helping Seniors, based in Porter and LaPorte counties, matches seniors to caregivers to help with cooking, cleaning, transportation and yard work. The business aims to bridge the gap between a senior choosing to remain at home and eventually moving to a care facility, owner Vickey Kelver said.
“Most people want to stay in their home,” Kelver said. “That’s the goal of most people.” — AP