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Senior housing 'a desperate need' in Kingston

Ray Rohay (far left) meets with her Hansville Solitarian friends on Friday. Senior housing needs is a favored discussion topic.  - Kelly Joines/Staff Photo
Ray Rohay (far left) meets with her Hansville Solitarian friends on Friday. Senior housing needs is a favored discussion topic.
— image credit: Kelly Joines/Staff Photo

KINGSTON — As property taxes and the costs of home repairs rise, those who helped build their lifelong communities are aging out.

The decision to leave a house — and the decades of memories it holds — is not easy for many of Kitsap’s older residents.

Hansville’s 83-year-old Ray Rohay is a prime example. Ask her friends and they’ll tell you she’s their adventurer. For her last birthday, she flew in the open cockpit of a biplane. One adventure she’s not ready for, however, is leaving her home, friends and lifelong memories for far away, affordable senior housing.

She’s not alone.

Of Kitsap County’s 244,800 residents more than 38,400 of them are ages 60 and older, according to the 2007 population estimate by the Office of Financial Management (OFM). This number is up more than 5,680 from the 2000 census.

At this rate, according to population trends, the OFM estimates one in every four Kitsap residents will be older than 60 by 2020. The current ratio is one in six.

As the baby boomers age beyond retirement years, the question lingers: Where will they live? More importantly, where can they afford to live?

Currently, Kingston is the planned answer.

Shelter Resources out of Bellevue teamed with Kitsap Housing Authority (KHA) to plan a 40-unit, low-income senior housing development in the vicinity of Kingston’s Village Green – a project that will add park open space, a new community center and now — potentially — senior housing.

“More people are getting to an age they can’t afford taxes, manage their property or house. Senior housing in Kingston would allow people to remain in the community they’ve been in for decades,” said North End Commissioner Steve Bauer. “The people have been there for years and helped create these communities. When they are forced to leave to Silverdale, Edmonds or Seattle because there’s no place here for them close to their community, it’s an awful choice they have to make and it’s awful for the community to lose them.”

A map of the 2000 census shows the highest concentration of people ages 60 and older reside in areas of North Kitsap and Bainbridge Island, with Port Orchard trailing closely behind.

So far, KHA received preliminary approval of a $1 million 1 percent interest, long-term loan for the project from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which sets aside loans for low-income housing. Final approval is decided later this month said Bobbie Moore, president of the Kingston Community Center Foundation and Village Green Stewardship Committee.

Moore said the groups are currently surveying residents to show the need for low-cost housing per an agreement for the final approval of the USDA loan.

“About 25 percent of seniors ages 60 and over are at or below poverty level in Kingston’s census tract,” Moore said, citing a Kitsap County Health Department report.

“Putting the money together is tedious,” Bauer said. “We might not have something on ground for three or four years but once we get the first piece in place, everyone knows it’s real.”

Rohay, who served on the now-extinct subcommittee for senior housing on the Greater Hansville Area Advisory Council, said the group tried to establish senior housing in Hansville but the town doesn’t have the necessary zoning for it.

“We can’t do it for ourselves maybe but we can do it for someone else if we all put our weight behind it,” Rohay said Friday morning to her Solitarian comrades, a group of aging single female socialites who live in Hansville.

Senior housing, the women said, is Rohay’s favorite topic to talk about. She said the possibility of getting senior housing in Kingston is reason to celebrate.

“This is really exciting news for me because our old people in Hansville are dropping like flies. Caregivers are burnt out and the single ones can’t afford the maintenance and upkeep of their houses,” Rohay said, adding that many of the homes were built as summer homes but once people retired from their jobs in Seattle, Edmonds and other places across the water, they came to live year round.

“The need is really great particularly for the guys taking care of their wives,” Rohay said. “When their wives pass away they become lonely and don’t reach out like women do. They just pine away.”

A 2008-2011 report by the Kitsap County Area Plan for Aging services states the current services offered for the senior population will not easily serve the projected increase.

“Whereas total county growth is usually accompanied by increased economic activity, the aging of our adult population is marked by fixed and falling incomes, and the governmental resources for social and health programs serving older persons, which have been relatively stagnant, are now stretched across a significantly larger population,” the report states.

With the aging population increase, current senior housing options in the North End will also be stretched past capacity.

Currently in the North End, Moore said there are three senior housing developments with low-income opportunities: Winton Woods and the Hostmark Apartments in Poulsbo and Finch Place on Bainbridge Island.

“We’re frustrated because we want to stay close to the community because we have friends here,” said Hansville resident and Solitarian Carole Cramer.

“We don’t want to move away but if we need medical it’s a two-and-a-half hour bus ride there and a two-and-a-half bus ride back,” she said.

The advantage of Kingston is that it’s a walk to the library, shops, town and ferry. Seniors wouldn’t be quite so dependent on a car, Rohay said. “It’s a need. It’s a desperate need,” she said. “It’s a tough go.”

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