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Votes

Changing Faces

New developments try to meet the needs of Loudoun's growing senior population.

By the year 2010 people over 60 years old are projected to make up 13.9 percent of the county's population, according to the Virginia Department for the Aging. By the year 2020, seniors will represent approximately 21.7 percent of county residents; by 2030, 29.3 percent.

"In addition to Loudoun County growing like crazy, the senior population is growing like crazy as well," Lynn Reid, division manager for the county's Area Agency on Aging, said. "It is unprecedented. We've never seen this kind of growth in one section of the population."

With so many seniors living in the county, the number of applications for age-restricted and active adult retirement communities being submitted to the county is also growing.

At its Dec. 19 meeting, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the Erickson Retirement Communities, a 124.3-acre continuing-care development with 1,792 congregate-care independent homes and 316 assisted-living and skilled-nursing units. Monday, Jan. 22, the Gatherings at Cascades, a 21-acre age-restricted development, went before the Planning Commission. Gatherings is located immediately next to Mirror Ridge at Community Village, a senior apartment homes development, off of Route 7 in Sterling.

Bruce Leinberger, owner of the land where the Gatherings at Cascades would be located, said there is not enough housing to accommodate the number of seniors in the county, expected to be 48,000 by 2008.

"Given what is already planned, including ours, there are less than 7,000 units in Loudoun County," Leinberger said. "[Seniors] don't have many choices."

CHARLOTTE NURGE, chair of the county's Commission on Aging, said that while it is true that there isn't enough overall housing for seniors, what the county is truly missing is affordable housing.

"That's the biggest issues," she said. "This is such a rich area, but most of us who are retired, retired some years ago on salaries that were much less. It is hard to compare to someone who's retiring now."

In addition to a vast majority of senior housing in Loudoun being high end, Reid said that it is hard to really know what affordable housing for seniors means.

"It is very difficult to find income data for the county," she said. "Like what is the mean or median income for people who are 60 plus?"

Regardless of what the actual income of seniors is, Reid said that it is nearly impossible for seniors with a limited income to afford a house that is $350,000 to $500,000.

"That's a lot of money on a fixed income," she said. "You have to be able to define what is affordable. There has to be something tangible."

THE TYPES OF housing and facilities needed by seniors also varies, and the county needs more variety in the developments that are built. Nurge said one of the biggest needs is continued-care retirement communities, such as the recently-approved Erickson community. The only one in the county is Falcon's Landing, Nurge said, which is only available for retired military personnel.

"Continued care allows a person to go into [a facility] where they can stay in the same place as their needs progress," Nurge said. "The services they need can be met there."

Nurge said continued-care facilities are also important for seniors who have recently had surgery or hospital stays because they can recuperate or receive physical therapy in their own environments.

Other options for seniors, such as rental units, are quickly disappearing as the developments are seeing longer and longer waiting lists.

"The board did increase the tax relief for seniors, which can help them meet the cost of these retirement communities," Nurge said.

WITHOUT ADDITIONAL age-restricted communities in the county, both Nurge and Leinberger said that the county could see a large outflow of seniors to surrounding areas.

"So many of people are here only because their families are here or they would move somewhere they could afford."

"Without other options they'll leave, go somewhere else and they won't come back," Leinberger said.

Reid said that she is already seeing it happen. Older residents are selling their houses because they can't afford the rising taxes and have to move to an area with affordable retirement community.

"That stage of life is not the best time to be moving away from your support system, your family and even your doctors," she said. "I'm just talking about the average person, retired teachers and retired professionals, who don't have $2 million in savings."