Katie York, director of the Township Division of Senior Services/Lifelong Montclair, spoke to local officials last week about a community action plan for senior citizens. LINDA MOSS/STAFF

By LINDA MOSS
moss@montclairlocal.news

A comprehensive study has identified housing as a critical need for Montclair’s senior citizens, who are challenged trying to remain in the township as they age, retire and downsize.

That finding was part of the takeaway of a 171-page “Age-Friendly Community Action Plan” that was submitted to the Township Council last week by the municipal Division of Senior Services/Lifelong Montclair, and the town’s Senior Citizen Advisory Committee. Lifelong Montclair is an “aging-in-place” initiative of the town Department of Health and Human Services.

“We know from all the surveys we’ve done that housing options for seniors are critically important,” Ann Lippel, chair of the senior advisory committee, told the council at its conference meeting. “We want to retain our seniors. We want them to be able to downsize here and enjoy the wonderful assets of this community for many years … They contribute very well, very intensely, to the well-being of the community.”

Going through and summarizing some of the report’s findings, Lippel said, “We have decided that housing is the key issue for investigation and research for this year … The research and the creativity that we have to bring to solving that problem goes way beyond what’s in this document.”

Lippel commended the council for establishing Senior Services/Lifelong Montclair, which is led by director Katie York.

In an interview this week, York said that local seniors need more housing options within the township, a topic that will be discussed Nov. 9 at the “Seniorama” that the senior advisory committee is hosting. Entitled “Senior & Retirement Housing Realities in Montclair: Challenges and Opportunities, What Can Be Done to Change the Landscape!,” the event will include a real estate developers’ forum.

Many of the initiatives described in the action report are the work of York and her organization, according to Lippel. York also appeared at the council meeting.

“One of the really important things about this document is that it wasn’t done in isolation,” York said of the report last week. “It was developed with a lot of collaboration by our SCAC, from [the nonprofit] Aging in Montclair, from our local AARP chapter. So it is something that we all put together. I shared it with the [township] services subcommittee and also shared it publicly at a staff meeting on Sept. 11 and there was overall support from the community. Quite a few people showed up and read through this.”

About 11 percent of Montclair’s residents are 65 or older, according to the report. The report discusses the “eight domains of livability” established by the World Health Organization and how they relate to the township, Lippel said.

“They cover all aspects of community life that are important for a citizen for well-being,” she said. “And the specific thrust of the particular document is that there are sometimes nuances which are especially important to seniors. But this provides a framework that is not only beneficial to seniors but also benefits all citizens.”

The report identifies work that’s already been done in the municipality – including improvements to transportation options, including senior-bus service, – and also identifies improvements that can be made to help senor citizens who live in the township.

At-Large Councilman Bob Russo said that he is the local governing body’s oldest member, and that he will turn 70 years old on Oct. 27.

“This is going to make Montclair even more of an age-friendly community, which is what we’ve already been designated,” Russo said of the recommendations in the report. “We’re trying to become more age-friendly, but we have a way to go.”

In terms of senior-housing options, the report suggested that the municipality create incentives for small landlords to add so-called accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, as options for senior housing. Fourth Ward Councilwoman Renée Baskerville said that she wanted to be sure that the final language on the ADUs in the report is consistent with the council’s views on them.

York explained that the report is not a binding contract for the council. However, the local governing body must approve Senior Services/Lifelong Montclair submitting its report to the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities and the WHO Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities and Communities so the township can maintain its membership in those groups.