An Aging Community

Published on
November 15, 2011

Residents in the small town of Novato, Calif., are aging quickly and their slow-growth community may not be keeping up.

Roughly 15 percent of the city's 51,904 residents are over 50, but more than 30 percent are between 45 and 64, according to the Census Bureau. According to the California Dept. of Finance, the elderly population is expected to comprise 26 percent of the population increase in Novato's home county, Marin, over the next 40 years.

But despite the county's high median income (roughly $88,000 in 2010), more than 50 percent of city's current seniors (65 and up) are considered low-income (making less than $68,900 for a family of four) according to HUD.

At least three things are necessary to accommodate the growth of this demographic: Affordable housing, public transportation and accessible health care. According to many analyses, these three things are lacking in the Bay Area town.

For example, the city currently has 170 low and very low-income units of housing, with roughly 3,800 seniors falling into HUD's low-income bracket, according to the current Housing Element. The city is attempting to zone more land for affordable housing projects, but that process has proved a draconian nightmare and resulted in what some call blatant violations of the Fair Housing act. Several of the sites chosen by the city as part of this process are the sites of already-existing businesses that expressed no interest in selling their land (and the city is not practicing eminent domain). Officials also decided to propose zoning the parcels ten units per acre under the county minimum, another move that advocates worry will get in the way of affordable housing actually becoming a reality in the city.

For my project, I will examine these three necessities, and question whether a significant--and growing--population is being ignored in the state's wealthiest county.