San Mateo foresees ‘silver tsunami’ of aging Baby Boomers who can’t afford home prices

The Stratford, a luxury senior living center located just off the downtown strip in San Mateo. (Emiliano O’Flaherty-Vazquez/Peninsula Press)

Newly elected San Mateo City Council member Joe Goethals called it a “silver tsunami.” While the imagery is striking, the facts are sobering: By 2030, almost a quarter of San Mateo County’s population is expected to be older than 65 — and a new study has found that 19 percent of Californians in this age group live in poverty.

The study by Stanford’s Center on Poverty and Inequality and the Public Policy Institute of California aimed to provide a more comprehensive and rigorous accounting of poverty statistics than the U.S. Census Bureau. Dubbed the California Poverty Measure, or CPM, the research took housing costs into account when determining poverty levels. For San Mateo County, the study determined that 18.4 percent of residents earned less than the poverty threshold of $36,504, a much higher figure than the Census estimate of 6.7 percent.

San Mateo city officials, aware that it’s hard to find a one-bedroom apartment for under $2,000 a month, have begun to explore ways to serve a rapidly aging demographic. But at an Oct. 16 forum, Mayor David Lim and several council members said the affordability problem remains easier to identify than to solve. One solution advanced by the state legislature, which Lim supported, would have allowed San Mateo to adopt an ordinance to require below-market-rate housing on 15 percent of all rental units. Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed the bill, citing his apprehension that it would drive developers away from low-income areas.

Lim, who was re-elected Tuesday, is working to secure U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant money for nonprofits and city programs that help seniors “stay in their homes longer” by remodeling the property with accessibility in mind. “Seniors who have a home are often house rich but cash poor and need to find ways to remain independent and age in place,” said Laura Farruchi, associate director of the Human Investment Project (HIP), a nonprofit that works to assist disadvantaged or disabled persons in the county.

Lim and others also support the development of senior housing in the city’s downtown near major transit hubs.

Senior housing developments do exist in the county, including The Stratford in downtown San Mateo and Lesley Terrace in Belmont. Still, demand for affordable housing remains high. Farruchi said her organization has seen a 10 percent increase in the number of seniors applying to HIP in the past year. “We typically have about five times the number of persons seeking housing than providing housing,” she said.

HIP receives funding from the county but is partially reliant on private donors and foundations. The project recently hired a community outreach manager to attract more home providers — people willing to share their homes with a senior, low-income family, or otherwise disadvantaged person.

Farruchi noted that home sharing has tangible economic benefits.

“Having a housemate can help defray housing expenses and have more income for health care costs and other basic human needs,” she said. “For the person seeking housing, especially seniors living on fixed incomes, home sharing can be an affordable housing arrangement and provide more security.”

San Mateo businesswoman Karen Schmidt, who ran unsuccessfully for a City Council seat, faults the city for not placing a greater emphasis on these options.

“I  think we need to advertise and push more people to the HIP program, to the house sharing scenario,” Schmidt said. “I know a lot of friends’ parents in the area who don’t want to give up their houses, but eventually [they] will need assistance and their children aren’t in positions to be able to move in and watch out for them.”

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