Believe it or not, there are people on Capitol Hill whose silver locks aren’t the result of a granny-hair trend. The U.S. Census estimates that 21% of residents in the 98112 ZIP code are 60 or older. These senior citizens, many of whom have lived in the area for a long time, are choosing to stay on the Hill, either in their homes, or in some of the new and established facilities which cater to older folks. Meanwhile, more are choosing to stay or come here as the transportation investments that are part and parcel with dense, urban environments are also the kinds of mobility features that appeal to seniors.
More senior housing may be on the horizon next to the Broadway light rail station, said Brie Gyncild, co-chair of Capitol Hill Champion, a group focusing on the developments around the transit facility.
“We’ve frequently heard the need for family housing on the Hill, but not quite as much about senior housing until recently,” she said.
Gyncild said the group has had discussions with site developer Gerding Edlen about including a plan for senior housing in the transit oriented development planned for the land around Capitol Hill Station.
Going forward, Gerding Edlen is planning meetings with different interest groups, and one of them will likely be with senior citizens, Gyncild said. “That conversation is likely to be more about the particular needs and concerns of seniors regarding the design of the plaza and other public spaces, building access, etc.,” she said.
But there are other new options and alternatives for an aging population. Wider Horizons Village, formed last summer and tries to work with seniors who wish to age in place.
“We help older people age well at home with social activities and services,” said Denise Klein, executive director of the nonprofit. Membership costs $600 per year, and the group has 76 members so far. Most members, Klein said, aren’t empty-nesters moving in from the suburbs, but people who have been here for a long time, and still live in the big houses on Capitol Hill, or in Montlake, Madrona or Leschi.
A lot of their focus is on social activities — dinners, parties, small and large gatherings, trips to a movie. Some of these can be planned in advance, while others might be more spontaneous, but the idea is to allow older people, who have likely watched their neighborhood go through some dramatic changes, feel connected to people at the same point in their life.
“It’s so easy, as we age, to see fewer people and do less,” Klein said.
There’s also a more practical side to the group. Its members will help each other with rides to the doctor, shopping trips, minor home repairs or tech advice. While it might seem like central Seattle, with is ample bus service and sidewalks everywhere would be good for older people, it isn’t always the case. While people here are probably less isolated than they’d be in a car-dependent suburb, there can still be difficulties. For people with mobility issues, steep hills can prove challenging, a walk to a bus stop of even a few blocks can be difficult, and cracked sidewalks can turn an ankle of even a young person. Some members of Klein’s group no longer drive at night, further restricting their movement, and necessitating groups like hers.
She said it will be interesting to see, as the Baby Boomers age, how many of them avail themselves of groups like this one. A generation that once rallied to the idea of not trusting anyone over 30 are now more than double that age, and some will find it hard to acknowledge their diminished physical capacity.
“There may be some denial,” Klein said. “We will see how throughgoing is that denial in the face of reality.”
She does hope that some will join, as she thinks the group will need to replenish its numbers with younger members. She also said the group would love to incorporate more racial diversity, something it has struggled with so far.
Some seniors are no longer able to age in their homes, which is where places like Fred Lind Manor, around since 1944, or Aegis Living on Madison, which opened in 2014, come in. These assisted living facilities can offer a broad range of services, from people who might only need a little help preparing a meal, all the way to those with have memory loss who need almost constant care. Many in these communities are longtime area residents.
“Our residents are mostly from this area, or have loved ones in this area,” said Rob Liebreich, the general manager at Aegis Madison.
Liebrich said that when Aegis, which operates communities in three states, was looking to expand, the location at 23rd and Madison seemed a good fit. It was centrally located and had easy access to transit. While the bus access is valuable for residents, it’s also an important factor in attracting employees.
Many of their residents –- there are 113 of them currently — wanted to stay in the area in which they’ve lived their whole lives. They want to keep shopping at the same stores, and attending the same churches or synagogues.
“They are still tied to the neighborhood in some form or fashion,” Liebreich said.
The residents try to keep their ties more than historical. They have made more than 200 blankets for locals in need. And, because everyone on Capitol Hill is a hipster at heart, they have a deck with a cocktail bar, and they grow their own hops with which they brew their own beer.