Rising number of seniors in Hays County will require more resources, services

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The population of people over the age of 65 in Hays County increased by 63% between 2010 and 2017—a significant number. But the growth that has occurred in recent years pales in comparison to projected gains in the number of seniors over the next several decades.

According to 2018 population projections from the Texas Demographics Center, between 2015 and 2030, the number of people over the age of 65 in Hays County will grow by nearly 200%, and by 2050 increases are anticipated to be as high as 650% or more.

“The Central Texas area is the second fastest-growing area in the nation for adults 65 and older,” said Rob Faubion, director of communications at AGE of Central Texas, a nonprofit that aims to help both older adults and their caregivers. “A majority of the population has heard these types of statistics, but they think that it’s 10 years down the road—they don’t realize that no, it’s right now.”

Population growth in general is a challenge that Hays County has been facing and will continue to face, but a vast increase in the number of older adults means local cities and nonprofits will have to figure out how to provide for a demographic with a growing need for services such as specialized housing, transportation and health care.

Older adults are moving to Central Texas for many of the same reasons that are driving growth in other age groups, according to Patty Bordie, director of the Area Agency on Aging, which is housed in the Capital Area Council of Governments.

“We’re getting a lot of calls from people moving people here,” Bordie said, explaining that as younger and middle-aged people move to Central Texas for work, they are bringing their parents—or their parents are following.

There is also the general aging of the large generation of baby boomers that is happening all over the U.S.—the growing number of older adults is the result of a previous population boom.

“Back in the ’80s and early ’90s we had the big tech boom happen,” Faubion said. “We had a big population influx of people who were in their 30s and 40s coming here to do those jobs. That huge chunk of the population is now retiring.”

But even just within the Central Texas region, the number of older people moving to Hays County is notably high. The population of people over the age of 65 grew 167% in Kyle between 2010 and 2017, by 136% in Buda and by 54% in San Marcos.

“It is one of the fastest-growing areas in Central Texas,” he said. “Kyle and Buda tie with East Williamson County for the fastest growing when it comes to seniors. And it’s primarily because we can’t afford to live in Austin anymore.”

The older adult population is growing even faster overall in Hays County than in Travis County, Bordie said. As a result, in recent years large organizations that support older adults—such as the Aging Services Council of Central Texas, of which the Area Agency on Aging is a part—have widened their reach in order to address the explosive growth in Hays County.

“This whole lack of affordable housing in Austin is pushing everybody out,” Bordie said. “We used to mainly focus on Travis and Williamson, but then in recent years added Hays and resources for Hays because we started seeing the growth similar to Travis and Williamson.”

That growth is one of the reasons that the city of Buda formed its Task Force on Aging in 2017, a City Council-appointed committee that gathers information about what seniors need and takes steps to address those needs.

“The issues impacting seniors and the population is going to continue to grow,” said David Marino, communications director for the city of Buda and also the leader of the task force. “That’s why this task force is very important.”

Buda has taken initiative in several areas to address the influx of seniors, particularly in transportation, which the initial survey conducted by the task force found to be a major need. Though Buda previously had senior transportation, in 2018 the city used a federal transit grant to buy a new, handicapped-accessible bus and rebranded the program Seniors Taking a Ride, or STAR. The bus operates 4 days a week.

“One of the things we really try to do is make them aware that there are opportunities in Buda to get involved.” Marino said.

The city also created a senior resource directory on its website and in the lobby of its municipal building so there is a central place residents can learn about organizations that can help them as well as opportunities to volunteer and socialize.

What cities have less control over is housing, though San Marcos Buda and Kyle have all managed to attract new senior housing. In the past year, ground has been broken on senior housing projects in all three cities that will include both assisted-living units and memory care: Sage Spring Senior Living in San Marcos, The Philomena in Kyle and Buda Oaks Assisted Living in Buda.

“There’s been so much growth in the Kyle and Buda area that there was a real need for senior living in that area,” said Cami Bachman, regional director of sales and marketing for Civitas Senior Living, which will manage both Buda Oaks and Philomena. “We are very busy, but we love it.”

But given the varying needs of older adults—some need very little in terms of medical or logistical support while others require 24-hour care—striking the right balance of housing development is a challenge.

“Right now there is kind of a glut of memory cares,” Faubion said. “They built more than there is actual need … which is great, because before we had none.”

Recent years have seen other types of residential projects for seniors open up in the area, with the independent living community of Kissing Tree as one of the larger projects.

Communities like Kissing Tree provide an important service, according to Amy Temperley, who worked with seniors in the nonprofit sector for many years before founding Kyle-based company Aging is Cool. Aging Is Cool runs fitness classes, creative programs and social events in retirement communities as well as in partnership with parks departments or private entities.

“Retirement and semi-independent are really big movements right now,” Temperley said. “People want to live in the least restrictive environment possible.”

Temperley said there is a wider variety of residential places than in the past, but that a major issue persists.

“The biggest problem there is that is you have lots of money you can have any of these options,” she said. “If you are middle- to low-income, you’re not going to be able to access that, so even assisted living is too expensive.”

Affordability is a key issue, especially in housing, Marino said.

“Housing can be a big stress for seniors because they’re on a fixed income,” Marino said.

Not everyone retiring today has a great deal of money saved, Faubion said, and Social Security and Medicare will not cover all expenses.

“The majority of folks who retire today have less than $50,000 in cash,” Faubion said, and there’s also the matter of people living longer.

“It used to be that when someone went to assisted living that it was usually about 18 months before they passed away,” he said. “Today it’s around five years.”

City governments have limited power to help in housing, Faubion said, especially because there is little federal money available.

“The reality is: Land is very expensive here in Central Texas,” he said. “How do we make that work? We do a combination public-and-private partnership.”

In San Marcos, where the City Council has made affordable housing a priority, one of those developments was just approved. In December, the council approved an application for low-income housing tax credits by the developer San Germaine LLC, which proposed a 156-unit development for low-income senior residents.

Even with housing developments moving into Hays County, the needs of many seniors will continue to be met by informal caregivers, Bordie said.

“It’s still a small percentage of people that can afford assisted living or that go into a nursing facility,” Bordie said. “It’s still predominantly families doing the work and helping loved ones at home.”

With the soaring number of seniors  and the increasing number of years they are living as active adults, advocates say that cooperation between agencies and both the for-profit and nonprofit sector will be the only way to meet the needs of older adults.

It also may require a cultural change, Faubion said.

“When you’re standing in line at H-E-B and you’ve got everybody in front of you with a walker—we’re going to have to be a society that’s a little kinder.”

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Katharine Jose has written about politics, infrastructure, environment, development, natural disasters and other subjects for The New York Observer, Capital New York, and The New York Times, among other publications. She was an editor for several publications in New York City before she moved to Texas, and has a master's degree in urban planning from the University of Texas-Austin.
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