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Posted: July 5, 2009 12:30 a.m.

City embraces aging citizens

Newton County has seen a rapid influx of young residents over the past couple of decades, but a 65-and-older population boom is soon to follow as life spans increase and the first Baby Boomers near 65.

Newton County’s growth, like much of the Atlanta region, has been mostly in the form of younger families moving out into Atlanta’s suburbs. In fact, the county’s percentage of 65 and older residents actually decreased from 9.9 percent of the total population in 2000 to 9 percent in 2007, while the U.S.’s population increased slightly from 12.4 percent to 12.5 percent.

However, the U.S. Census Bureau predicts an elderly population explosion for the entire country after the first Baby Boomer turns 65 in 2011; and health care companies have been starting up and expanding to prepare for this growing demand. The U.S. has about 39 million 65-and-older residents; that number is expected to almost double to 72 million by 2030 and 89 million by 2050. As a percentage of all Americans, the 65-and-older population is expected to increase from 12.5 percent to 20 percent by 2030.

Although Newton County will not likely age at the same rate, because Georgia and the Atlanta region in particular are expected to continue to be a high-growth area fueled by younger residents, the county is just starting to see that growth and a handful of new facilities are opening in 2009, with more planned for 2010.

Benton House of Covington, a senior living facility with 47 apartments, is opening in July, while Merryvale Assisted Living recently doubled its size, adding suites and a new dementia wing.

According to the AARP, as of 2004, the average monthly cost for an assisted living facility was between $2,000 to $3,000 per month. Newton County is not among Georgia’s poorer counties, according to Georgia Department of Community Affairs statistics. In general, however, the South retains a concentration of poverty and Newton County has several poorer areas, exacerbated by the economy.

Older populations are particularly susceptible to poverty during downturns if they don’t have a stable income. States and the federal government offer numerous tax breaks and other incentives to private developers who build affordable senior living facilities; and Covington has had two developers seek resolutions of support from the city for housing projects so far in 2009. Both developments are subject to receiving those tax credits and incentives from the DCA; which is where the city’s resolutions of support come in.

MACO Development Company of Clarkton, Mo. is planning to build a nearly $10 million development in Harristown at the intersection of Lee and Reynolds streets. The facility, Harristown Park, would have 60 to 70 units and would rent would be based on income, starting as low as $175 a month.

Beneficial Communities is planning to build an 80-to-90 unit affordable living facility on the west side of the Covington Bypass Road across from the Wildwood Subdivision. The facility would be called Spring Meadow and rent would start as cheap as $500 per month; applicant income would be limited to $32,000.

The four developers mentioned all cited a lack of senior housing in Covington and are hoping to fill a widening market need. Mike Allard, director of operations for Benton House, said his company chose Covington because they are now looking to expand into markets that aren’t oversaturated.

"Our company is in a bit of growth spurt mode and our services are needed regardless of the economy," Allard said. "Now we typically look for towns and smaller cities, not major metro markets."

Covington Interim Planning Director Randy Vinson said beside the above developments he hasn’t seen any other proposed senior living expansion; and if one or both of the affordable living centers gets built in 2010, he said Covington will probably have enough senior housing for the next several years.

However, when the need does arise, the city hopes to be ready. The city’s recently passed Urban Redevelopment Plan is a municipal tool used to help secure state and federal funding for private developers, like tax credits. Covington’s URP specifically states that one of the most immediate private development opportunities is in affordable housing for seniors. Vinson said the Harristown facility would be welcome by the city, because it has viewed that a high-need area for years.

Numerous reports have cited Baby boomer’s desire to retain their independence as much as possible in their old age, which is why assisted living and independent senior living communities are becoming more popular, in addition to increased at-home health care. Newton County will

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