Today seniors (age 60 and over) comprise 15 percent of the population of Montgomery County. County planners project that by 2020, less than eight years from now, seniors will comprise 24 percent of county residents. Yet according to the Action in Montgomery (AIM) organization, many seniors are being forced out of the county because they are unable to find affordable housing.
In addition, one of every six seniors in Montgomery County today lives in poverty.
At a March 20 meeting at Kehilat Shalom synagogue in Montgomery Village, over 250 — mostly senior — AIM members packed the temple’s multipurpose room to share these concerns with County Executive Ike Leggett, County Council President Roger Berliner (District 1) and Council member Hans Riemer (At-Large).
AIM is a nonpartisan coalition of 30 congregations and neighborhood organizations in Montgomery County representing over 30,000 adults. The group’s chief goal is a “just community,” and it works to achieve that end, according to its website (www.actioninmontgomery.org) by developing local leadership to organize people.
Leggett announced at the meeting that his proposed 2013 budget earmarks $1.5 million to “support the development of 140 units of affordable housing for low-income seniors, the first part of a two-year commitment that will total $6 million.” The development, on county land and located next to the future Silver Spring Library, was originally to be developed as affordable family housing.
Leggett said he would also propose developer tax relief to encourage that senior components be built into other projects, and he agreed to meet again in June 2012 with AIM representatives to discuss current and future housing development sites.
“[We are] doing this because it is the right thing to do,” Leggett told the gathering.
Leggett’s announcement was greeted with enthusiasm, but many AIM leaders say it is just a small beginning in addressing a large, growing need.
“AIM is tired of seeing people leave,” said Rabbi Mark Raphael of Kehilat Shalom, and host to the March 20 meeting. They leave because they cannot afford to retire in the county or because they cannot find suitable housing near transportation, he explained.
“The true place where God is found is in sacred relationships,” Raphael said, referring to the many seniors whose longtime friendships and ties in the community are destroyed when they are forced to move away from the county.
Housing Co-chair Dick Pavlin said the decision to campaign for affordable senior housing and the ability to age in place was the result of a grassroots process. AIM leaders from member institutions hold hundreds of small group (eight to 10 people) “house meetings,” each year where county residents discuss what economic and social issues are most important to them.
AIM volunteers began holding meetings nine months ago with congregation members to form an agenda for their senior campaign.
“We are here to call for action on affordable housing because seniors feel alone with fears about the future. [In house meetings] we heard repeatedly that if we work and live our lives in the county, we should be able to retire in the county,” he said.
Reverend Pearl Selby, pastor of Oak Grove A.M.E. Zion Church in Gaithersburg, also spoke at the AIM meeting. In a later interview with The Town Courier, she said, the lack of affordable housing has driven many seniors out of the county who had lived in the neighborhood around her church, located in Gaithersburg between Olney and Laytonsville.
“It’s devastating to them when they have to move out and there is no affordable housing in the neighborhoods for them,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking.”
Acknowledging that seniors will be nearly a quarter of the county population in just a few years, she said, “We have got to pull together.”