After recently attending the open house at the Health and Human Services campus, I must comment on the proposed fate of the property.
The county seems somewhat deaf to any proposal other than to build high-density housing using three-story buildings in a residential area composed of mainly single-story homes. There is simply no good fit with this idea. And the county seems to think it is just fine to put family housing next door to juvenile hall. It is not. The razor wire is a clue.
The county is looking to provide "affordable housing" – that’s political speak for subsidized housing. And a subsidy is when a government entity takes money from the people who earned it and give it to people who didn’t. I much prefer if subsidies are to be given, they go to the very young, the very old, and the handicapped.
I have repeatedly proposed the site be used for senior housing, saving the crescent and historic buildings for support services and activities. I work with seniors, and often see them stuck in single-family homes they can no longer care for -- but they stay because they don’t see a secure solution for the situation. Many are what are now called "senior orphans" – those who either have no children to help, or have children who can’t or won’t help. And the isolation many feel contributes to much of the depression seen in the senior population, as well as threat to their well-being should they be injured and unable to get help.
What if the city and county were to partner and do something truly innovative? Yes, it would take more work, and the county would probably not get as much money for the property, but both the City Council and Board of Supervisors have an obligation to serve the residents who are already here, many of whom helped build this county and city. Our seniors should be cared for and honored, not side-lined as dismissed as often happens.
With a little imagination, the existing buildings could be used for classes. Some of our restaurants could offer healthy cooking classes, as could the CIA. There could even be something of an on-site meals-on-wheels service for those in need.
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And how about allowing college students in a certain percentage of the apartments, with the understanding they serve as sort of a resident assistant a given number or hours during the week to defray their rent?
How about designing a "senior playground" out in the crescent, so the residents can remain physically active and socialize outside?
Some may ask, what about the "workforce" housing the county is clamoring for? Well, the homes the seniors leave could help serve that population, perhaps being rented out to defray the cost of the new senior housing. And rather that providing taxpayer money as subsidies, the workforce renters could work off a portion of the rent by repairing and maintaining the homes. I’m sure other, probably better ideas are out there, and they deserve to be explored.
In closing, this community -- city and county -- has the skill, imagination and resources to do something that would be innovative and a model for other communities. Why not take up the challenge?