County prepares for elderly boomers

Aging Readiness Plan addresses the ‘silver tsunami’

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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Clark County commissioners Tuesday approved a blueprint for how the county will prepare for the “silver tsunami” of baby boomers.

Clark County Administrator Bill Barron said the Aging Readiness Plan is the culmination of “one of the most significant public policy initiatives” he’s seen, and a fine example of building policy from a grass-roots effort.

“It’s a work of art,” Barron said.

The plan was pushed by Commissioner Marc Boldt, the only boomer on the board. Commissioner Steve Stuart, a Generation Xer, said he was dubious at first but has come around.

(Commissioner Tom Mielke, a pre-boomer, was absent Tuesday.)

The plan has 91 recommendations to achieve short-term, medium-term and long-term goals. The recommendations range from the big -- promoting higher-density housing and mixed-use development to help keep older people in their homes -- to the small, such as using larger type sizes on street signs as the signs are replaced.

The recommendations were made by the Aging Readiness Task Force, a 25-member group appointed by commissioners in 2010 to identify gaps in amenities, programs and services.

The chairman of the Aging Readiness Task Force, Jesse Dunn, works as the executive director of The Arc of Clark County.

Dunn said Tuesday he likes the term “silver tsunami” and acknowledges that communities don’t know what it will be like to have so many elderly people.

“This community is willing, interested and has the energy to look down the road and see what that means,” Dunn said. “The vision that realizes foresight is always better than hindsight.”

Other members have work experience in senior housing, health care, transportation and support services.

The Aging Readiness Plan focuses on key issues, such as sufficient affordable housing and services to help people remain in their homes, and public transit to assist older folks who no longer drive. It also addresses a need for ways to keep senior citizens engaged in the community, such as volunteer opportunities.

Following national trends, by 2030 one in four Clark County residents will be 60 or older, according to the report. That segment will grow from 16 percent to 23 percent of the population; the number of people 85 and older will increase by 50 percent.

“This growing segment of our community is going to redefine what a livable community means in Clark County,” the report said. “Clark County must ensure housing options and opportunities to meet the needs of older residents and encourage aging-in-place and aging-in-community.”

The report notes that while many people might want to remain in their homes past the time they can go up and down stairs, only 35 percent of current homes are single-story, ranch-style homes.

Also Tuesday, the commissioners approved a new section for “cottage housing,” to encourage developers to build clusters of small, one-story houses with shared carports.

Laura Hudson, director of the city of Vancouver’s community development department, testified in favor of the Aging Readiness Plan. She said she was there representing Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt and the members of the city council.

“We support the plan wholeheartedly and look forward to helping you implement it,” Hudson said.

To that end, Commissioners Boldt and Stuart also approved forming a Commission on Aging to help the county as it goes forward with the plan.

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com.