Housing a concern for rising senior population in Easthampton

  • Jon Peterson, front, of Huntington, dances with his wife, Kathleen, during a basic ballroom dance class at Easthampton Council on Aging, Tuesday. The class is taught by Stephen Bailey, of Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jon Peterson, center, of Huntington, and his wife, Kathleen, get some pointers from Stephen Bailey, left, of Easthampton during his basic ballroom dance class at Easthampton Council on Aging, Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer 
Published: 1/9/2019 12:18:49 AM

EASTHAMPTON – Residents over the age of 60 are projected to make up more than a third of Easthampton’s population within the next 16 years, according to a report by the Council on Aging. 

Currently, there are 4,319 residents aged 60 and older living in the city, or about a quarter of the population, according to the council’s aging planning study conducted with the University of Massachusetts Boston. 

“The most alarming part are the issues surrounding housing,” said Brendan Rogers, director of the COA, about the report’s findings, which were published in October. “There is an overwhelming sense of concern for the cost of living and not being able to keep up with it.” 

The study began in the fall of 2017. Residents age 55 and older were surveyed to investigate the needs of the expanding senior population. There were 1,800 responses from residents that will inform the city on how to “maintain independence and quality of life” for seniors, according to Rogers. 

Mayor Nicole LaChapelle said in an interview in December that the study will help by “not making assumptions” about the city’s senior population.

“It is important to understand that, within that (senior population’s) increase, what the socioeconomic needs of those elders are,” LaChapelle said. 

A key finding from the report is economic insecurity for older Easthampton residents. The median household income for those 65 and older in Easthampton is $32,899 compared to the state median of $42,707 of the same age group.

The median income for older men living alone is $25,441 and for older women living alone it’s $21,302 in Easthampton, according to the report. 

“We’re coming to a point where we will need more affordable housing,” Rogers said. “We are better off than some other communities, but in another 10 years, I don’t imagine state housing holding up.”

Rogers said there is a two- to three-year waiting period with the state-run Easthampton Housing Authority and he is concerned how the projected rise in the senior population could be accommodated with affordable housing in the city. 

“Rents are getting higher and higher in Easthampton because its gotten to be a more popular place to live,” resident Barbara Mitchell said during a game of cribbage at the senior center on Tuesday.

For Mitchell, she said the city investing in education and infrastructure are important in order to continue to remain an attractive destination to live. 

“The school is the value of the town,” Mitchell said, adding that young families will want to move to Easthampton due to the new school. 

However, “it’s hard” for seniors living in Easthampton, Mitchell said.  

“If you have a house and you are getting to the point physically where you can’t keep up with the yard work and house maintenance and you might start to think about selling your house and move into an apartment,” she said. “Well, once you move into an apartment, if you live a long time, you are going to run out of money.”

Luis Fieldman can be reached at lfieldman@gazettenet.com




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