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Aging and Housing: A Closer Look at Census 2010 Data

On the heels of new census data released last week, Patch checked in with city officials to get their take on what the new census numbers mean.

In 2011, the oldest of those born between 1946 and 1964, more commonly known as the baby boomer generation, have already or will reach 65 years of age. It's a fact that is not lost on Jobyna Nickum, manager of the who has throughout her more than 19 years experience in this position, foreseen that once this large demographic enters the senior citizen realm, the city will need to find a way to meet their needs.

According to the released from Census 2010, those in the 45 to 64 age bracket make up 30 percent of the total Enumclaw city population in 2010; in 2000, this same group only represented 18.3 percent. At the same time, the number of people within the 65+ age bracket has remained relative steady over the last 10 years.

For Nickum, these numbers along with the increased longevity of many citizens, mean that demands on the Senior Center will only increase; the agency is already serving people spanning an age range of 50 years and two generations. That means both children in their 70s along with their parents who are typically in their 90s are coming to the Senior Center for assistance, she said. She predicts that within five years, the Center will be assisting families three generations deep. 

"There is an ever increasing need for the city to serve its aging citizens and aging parents," she said. 

The longevity is a double-edged sword. In spite of a longer life expectancy, seniors require more medical and health assistance. Nickum said she's seen many who are outliving their savings and have had to go back to work to supplement their Social Security payments. And some -- due to both economic as well a behavioral problems on the part of their children -- are now also raising their grandchildren.

Unlike other senior centers that may only provide recreational opportunities for local seniors, the Enumclaw Senior Activity Center serves as more of a community focal point, Nickum said. Staff and volunteers help seniors with everything from Social Security, Medicare, veterans' assistance, housing, transportation, mental and physical health, food and nutrition. It works closely with toward that end. 

At the same time, the complexities of how to care for an elderly parent has led to an increase in the number of adult children now approaching the Center for help. "Adult kids can't take care of their parents," she said.

Nineteen years ago, the Center typically received two to three phone calls a month from an adult child looking for advice on, for example, how to set their parents up on Social Security. Nowadays, the Center takes five to six phone calls/visits each week. Many adults, for example, don't know the difference between Medicare and Medicaid. 

Staff at the Senior Center appear to be fighting an uphill battle however as funding reductions have hit the agency in the last few years that have affected staffing and budgeting for supplies, Nickum said. Though the Center wasn't subject to cuts in the 2011 budget, it did face substantial cuts in prior years.

At one point, the Senior Center used to be able to help people with low income or subsidized housing, transportation and in-home care services at low or no costs. But, "human services funding has dried up," she said.

Nonetheless, "the city has always been receptive to hearing about demographics and trends," she said. "But we must all live within the economic constraints of our time."

Limited resources will likely be a challenge for the Senior Center in years to come. However, Nickum said there is a silver lining to the increased numbers of seniors expected to come through its doors in the near future. They create a large volunteer base and they bring new skills to the table. Additionally, they can pass along their history and values of slowing down in a fast-paced world.

"Seniors have a lot to offer," she said. "Most people just don't want to take the time."

Population Decline Bolstered by Pending Annexations

As Patch had , Enumclaw has seen a population decline of about 4 percent over the last 10 years.

The decrease is most easily seen in the number of utility customers that the city's Public Works Department continues to serve, said City Administrator Mike Thomas.

Similarly, due to the economy, the city has seen an increase in the number of foreclosures on homes resulting more often than not in abandoned homes -- though the city doesn't officially track abandoned homes, he said.

The latest Census 2010 data does indicate that vacant homes now comprise 5.6 percent of all total available housing units in the city, whereas in 2000, the percentage of vacant units was just 3.1 percent. 

Nonetheless, compared to nearby which saw the number of homes nearly double over the last 10 years, Enumclaw saw its total number of homes rise from 4,456 in 2000 to 4,683 in 2010 -- representing a 5 percent increase.

The reason for the slow development? "We were in a moratorium for a better part of a decade and missed the 'boom,'" Thomas said. The moratorium was due to a lack of sewer capacity in the 90s.

The last building boom in Enumclaw occurred in the 80s, he said. After that, there was a water, sewer and platting moratorium, which also extended to annexations so "for 10 years, there was only very limited development."

The moratorium loosened in 2006 - 07 upon the completion of the city's wastewater treatment plant expansion project, Thomas said. Now, Enumclaw has "all the sewer capacity in the world," but with the housing market being what it is, development still stands largely still. The city had counted on new development to help pay for the sewage plant upgrades as well.

But new construction isn't completely dormant. Developers are being much more cautious given the reluctancy of banks to lend, so they're relying solely on pre-sales. "No one builds a home here unless it's been sold," Thomas said.

And the city, with its growing older population, is seeing interest from developers looking at construction aimed at the 55+ group.  In the last three to four years, baby boomers appear to be returning to Enumclaw looking for quiet places to live, he said.

But the lack of development won't stop the city from seeing at least a noticeable boost in population. In the last two years, the city has approved at least four annexations of adjacent parts of unincorporated King County. Thomas estimates it will bump population numbers back up to about 11,000 people, which benefits the city in terms of the state shared revenue which is determined through a per capita allocation.

Should growth in both population and development start to climb again, however, the city's Comprehensive Plan outlines that in terms of resources, Enumclaw still has a population ceiling of about 17,000 through the year 2022, Thomas said.

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