By Jaimie Julia Winters
At the most recent Montclair Planning Board meeting, 96-year-old Samuel Debnam’s plan to subdivide his lot where he has had a home for 73 years was denied. Given rising property taxes, he thought subdividing and selling a portion of the 100-by-150 foot lot was a creative solution for him and his wife to live out the rest of their days in Montclair. During his years in Montclair, Debnam ran a catering business and served as president of Montclair Kiwanis Club, superintendent of Sunday school at St. Paul’s Baptist Church, a trustee of the Washington & Park Streets YMCA, a member of the Montclair Eureka Lodge #52, the Montclair chapter of the NAACP and the American Legion.
Debnam’s story is just one of many Montclair seniors struggling to afford to stay in the community where they raised their children and served, said Ann Lippel, Chairman of the Montclair Senior Citizen Advisory Committee. In the next three years, the percentage of Montclair residents over the age of 60 is approaching 20 percent, which equates to a 7,533 senior population, she said. Montclair Township has four affordable senior citizen housing projects containing 304 dwelling units.
“If we want to help our seniors to age in place, we have to have appropriate housing and come up with some creative options,” said Lippel.
The group is currently conducting a survey to assess the Montclair’s senior housing situation.
These are the realities, said Lippel:
• Baby Boomers are retiring at the rate of 10,000 a day.
• The percentage of retirees in Montclair will only grown larger in a few short years.
• The American grandparent economy is responsible for consumption of more than $2 trillion in goods and services annually.
• The retention of current residents and attraction of new seniors should be a central part of the town’s economic development planning.
The last survey, conducted in 2013, resulted in the hiring of a senior services director, the creation of a discount tax program, senior recreational programs at the Edgemont Park House and outsourcing of the senior bus program which increased ridership by 225 percent.
“Although quality-of-life issues were improved for our seniors, housing was not addressed,” Lippel said about the 2013 survey.
The new survey will concentrate on senior housing needs and be more comprehensive, she said.
The group is hoping more seniors will fill out the survey as they have only received about 100 responses to date. It is available at the Montclair Public Library and the Edgemont Park House, as well as online at at scacmontclair.org. The surveys can be dropped off at the Edgemont Park House before April 15.