By Frank Farricker
In my 7 years on the Planning and Zoning Commission, I learned one very vital fact to the future of Greenwich. And that is that by 2020, more than 20,000 Greenwich residents will be over the age of 65. While my mother might take exception to the fact that someone over that age might need some special assistance, the fact is that as we age we need to be more cognizant that changes might be necessary.
The Senior Center is a real gem, a necessary and well protected resource for some seniors, but in itself or twinned with Nathaniel Witherell it should not be our whole Seniors policy. We need a more strategic plan that recognizes that all seniors are not the same, have the same resources or the same needs but all deserve the ability to live in the community they have given so much to over the years, and not be forced by unenlightened policies to decide that they have to move away because Greenwich doesn’t have a wealth of opportunities for them to stay.
When my grandmother turned 80, she found she needed assistance, but that assistance didn’t exist in Greenwich so she moved to Edgehill in Stamford. At the time, she was the only person from Greenwich over there, but today I think they all are. We need more facilities for those with physical or other impairments to be able to live in Greenwich.
When my aunt’s best friend, Diane Fowler, lost her rental home deal in Cos Cob after 20 years, she and her husband Larry found out that there wasn’t any place in Greenwich they could remotely afford, even when she was still working at the hospital and he was landscaping. They bought a house in Stamford, but for people who gave their life over to being Greenwich people, the exile was too much for them. We lost Diane this year and it would have been much nicer if she could have stayed home.
When another good family friend moved to Norwalk, it was because even though she lived in a nice house in Pemberwick in which she and her husband paid off years ago, she couldn’t afford to pay the taxes just on social security and her small pension. She didn’t qualify for the weak tax credit that Greenwich offers and while she got a nice amount for her sale, it wasn’t nearly enough for a place she could get around in safely because they weren’t available to protect her earnings and stay in Greenwich.
I could go on with other stories you will recognize, but the reality is that when you become a senior citizen, your choices dwindle. You could have plenty of money, but no place to “downsize” because there are no modest priced homes. You could own a house in a town with low taxes, but not afford them because you don’t want to sell but your assessment makes taxes too high to handle. You could have physical issues that cant be met at all outside of Witherell. If we are going to respect your life in Greenwich and if we are going to have a community that values its people first, we need to make some changes to ensure that in the future people similar to like I have described do not have to make unnecessarily difficult choices,
To address these issues I would propose that the Planning and Zoning Commission, of which the First Selectman is an ex officio member, aggressively study and implement rules that allow for more density in the construction of senior restricted housing. I don’t like the idea of restricting the right of a property
owner to use their land for the highest and best use, but if we can offer an incentive to build or repair more senior housing that is comparable to building a McMansion, we need to do it right away.
We need to implement a real senior tax credit, and not one that is as ineffective as the current one is, and definitely one that is NOT tied to social security. While our tax rate is small, our values are high and that means that someone on a fixed income finds selling their only option. Let a senior with a fixed income be able to accrue taxes against the equity in their home so that they can live comfortably without Greenwich missing out on the tax revenues.
We need to continue to partner with private groups to adequately fund aging in place programs that have more aggressive transportation opportunities, more service deliveries and more ways for our seniors to live comfortably in homes longer.
And on top of that, we need to ensure that what works, like today’s senior center, the affordable housing that does exist, and all the great private assistance programs that we have are protected in our budgets from those who don’t think the same way we do.
You don’t need to be Kreskin to see into the future, and our future needs to be more respectful and more responsive to those who will be 1/3 of our residents. I think that these conservative and doable plans will go a long way to make that happen for all of us.