Word To The Wise: The World View of Choices For Healthy Aging

covell_village-600By E. Roberts Musser –

The group Choices for Healthy Aging (CHA) was scheduled on the agenda for the March 10, 2011 Davis Senior Citizens Commission meeting, at the suggestion of Commissioner Mary Jo Bryant. This occurred in advance of a presentation by city staff on senior housing in general and the Cannery project in particular. The hallmark of what CHA envisions, as presented by CHA member Don Villarejo, is encapsulated in the list that follows:
  • Age-qualified senior housing development
  • With home ownership
  • A community lodge
  • Fitness center and spa
  • Onsite joint medical provider clinic with telemedicine capabilities
  • Homeowners association that would be responsible for maintenance
More specifically, CHA would require that at least one member of the household be 55 years of age or older. Homes would range in size from 900 to 2400 sq. ft. Socialization could be facilitated by way of the community lodge. Active lifestyles would be encouraged through the use of a fitness center and spa. An onsite joint medical facility would be available, equipped with telemedicine capabilities – established at the facility and inside individual homes with the assistance of University of CA Davis. Additionally, a homeowners association would be created to take care of the exterior and yard maintenance.

CHA believes that “the segment of the housing market in Davis that has been totally neglected for 30 years is the Davis senior household, who desires to downsize, and has a median income of $59,000 and a paid for or nearly paid for house”. They go further on to say “…a good percentage of these individuals were not interested in only 900 sq. ft. homes, but in home sizes that ranged between 900 and 2400 sq. ft.”. Added to that is the comment, “They wanted to be able to take the best of what they have and enjoy the age sensitive amenities…the CHA model offers”.

CHA members have been in consultation with city staff and the owners of the Cannery property, ConAgra. Of the 610 homes proposed for construction at the Cannery site, CHA wishes 80% of the residences to be an age-qualified senior housing development of their specific vision as described above. Apparently the talks have not been particularly fruitful, since CHA expressed their displeasure by saying in a letter to the ConAgra folks, “…in all frankness we do not believe that our objectives can be met with your proposal for a “multi-generational” project in which seniors are a minority and which does not offer a significant portion of the amenities, which would make the project attractive to seniors”.

CHA continually implies it represents seniors in Davis with phrases such as:

  • “we may have diametrically opposed objectives [to ConAgra] for what may be in the best interests of…seniors”;
  • “we…believe…this will be the…best opportunity to address senior needs in this community”;
  • “amenities and services essential to the health and welfare of seniors”;
  • “clustering of seniors may be necessary in order to achieve the kind of homeowners’ association most seniors…desire”;
  • “CHA represents the desires of…400 Davis resident members and the views contributed by 1,200 participants in …group meetings”;
  • “[seniors] want to have home ownership, but a different type of home…”;
  • “homeownership solution for seniors, today’s new agers”;
  • “serving the unmet needs of Davis seniors”;
  • “This extensive outreach effort has allowed us to gain a better understanding of what Davis residents are looking for as they plan for their future”.

As a discussion ensued at the Commission meeting, some interesting points cropped up:

  • CHA member Don Villarejo insisted neither developers Bill Streng nor John Whitcombe were members of the CHA organization; persevering there was no “leash” between CHA and Streng or Whitcomb; but admitted both these builders did support CHA’s vision for senior housing; and the pair were also present at the initial meetings establishing CHA.
  • CHA believes by making a development age-qualified, so only one member must be 55 years or older, the development is “multi-generational”. (Mr. Villarejo noted that at least one CHA member has a situation in which a household member would be under age 55.)
  • CHA member Don Villarejo conceded that “not everyone would like what we would like”.
  • CHA admits it may have to make compromises, but insists it will “continue to push for what it needs”.
  • When asked how CHA’s vision was in any way “affordable”, CHA member Don Villarejo floundered and offered the explanation that was a “tough question”; “economies of scale” would make houses and services “more affordable”; the price of houses was “going down”. Mr. Villarejo failed to explain how low or middle income homeowners could afford either the houses, or all the amenities envisioned to be paid for by a homeowners association monthly assessment: clubhouse, spa, exterior and yard maintenance.
  • Confronted by the argument that what CHA is asking for goes against community principles of multigenerational diversity, Don Villarejo persisted CHA’s vision answered the needs of a growing older population; unnecessarily and incorrectly criticized the senior community University Retirement Commons for having no home ownership opportunities; and irrelevantly acknowledged “a town/gown dichotomy”.
  • After inquiry was made on how such a large housing development as envisioned by the Cannery project would pencil out fiscally to the city – a city that is currently in dire economic straits and cannot provide current services to its citizens, let alone more services to a new 610 home development – Don Villarejo had a ready answer. He insisted if seniors downsized to a new residence, the tax basis for the old house would be stepped up to current present market value for a new buyer. How a stepped up tax basis for the new owner would translate to additional monies specifically for the general fund coffers of Davis to pay for additional city services was never explained.
  • CHA is also implying that by down-sizing, seniors will be freeing up homes for families with children to purchase. Their conclusion is this will somehow “save” Davis schools from its budget crisis by adding students.
  • When asked exactly what CHA wanted from the Senior Citizens Commission, CHA member Don Villarejo said CHA just wanted the opportunity to present their vision for senior housing.
  • CHA refuses to believe that an AARP survey, that indicates approximately 85% of seniors wish to remain in their own homes, is even remotely accurate or reflective of what Davis seniors desire. However, it should be noted CHA fought mightily against having any public survey done of what Davis seniors do want.

City staff has tentatively scheduled a presentation to the Davis Senior Citizens Commission on land use planning, and the Cannery project in particular, on April 11 at 6 p.m. at the Davis Senior Center.

Elaine Roberts Musser is an attorney who concentrates her efforts on elder law and aging issues, especially in regard to consumer affairs. If you have a comment or particular question or topic you would like to see addressed in this column, please make your observations at the end of this article in the comment section.

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  1. Ryan Kelly

    Why does this have to be in Davis? There are probably other communities that might welcome this type of project. They seem to want a housing development that doesn’t require them to ever leaving the property. What they envision is very expensive. A spa? On-site medical clinic? Clubhouse with recreational activities? All paid for by association dues? They need to keep in mind disasters like Wild Wings, where the County was expected to come in an bail out homeowners who couldn’t afford to pay the fees required to maintain their dream. Again, why in Davis?

  2. rusty49

    “•CHA refuses to believe that an AARP survey, that indicates approximately 85% of seniors wish to remain in their own homes, is even remotely accurate or reflective of what Davis seniors desire. However, it should be noted CHA fought mightily against having any public survey done of what Davis seniors do want.”

    This says everything that needs to be known. From this statement it sounds like CHA will tell you what seniors want whether they want it or not. I’m over 55, I guess I’m considered a senior, and I want to stay in my current home. So obviously they don’t speak for me.

  3. E Roberts Musser

    To Ryan Kelly: You make a very good point about developments like Wild Wings in Woodland. There can be all sorts of problems with an HOA and a development’s concept. Wild Wings is a lovely development, has a clubhouse and golf course. However, HOA dues can be a bone of contention, pitting neighbor against neighbor, the haves against the have nots. It is not uncommon to see the haves tell the have nots if they cannot afford to live in an expensive neighborhood, they should just leave. However, that can be dangerously counterproductive. What can happen is many of the homes in the development are put up for sale, people cannot sell but cannot pay the dues w foreclosures the result. In consequence, other homeowners may have to pick up the tab for those who cannot pay the dues.

    My concern w CHA’s vision is that such a development is going to be very costly, w only the wealthy being able to afford to live there. Some may get into the development, thinking it is a wonderful opportunity, until their HOA assessments go up astronomically to pay for all these wonderful services CHA is envisioning. In this economic downturn, such a development seems very risky to me…

    To Rusty49: You make excellent points – CHA does not speak for seniors in Davis. They only speak for their particular group…

  4. fatcatz

    Why do we even acknowledge groups like the CHA. The last thing Davis needs is a small group of angry people pretending that they represent the viewpoints of the entire city. What we need to do is to listen to a greater cross section of the community; avoid the fringe element and focus on the community as a whole.

    By allowing these small groups to push their private agendas, we are doing this city a disservice. This town needs to grow. We need housing and business real estate that attracts people at the beginning of their lives, ready to build careers, ready to build a family, and ready to bring a new vision. These special interest groups cannot do that for us.

    Affordable housing for independent seniors can certainly be a component of any development project. In fact, it should be considered and included if the demand is found.

  5. Davis Boomer

    [quote]CHA continually implies it represents seniors in Davis[/quote]Elaine: Great article. Very informative.

    I am one of the 1,200 people that attended a CHA outreach meeting. For all I know, I may also be one of the 400 people that CHA claims as a member.

    The meeting was held in a conference room in the Tandem Properties complex and was attended by about 10 other people. In attendance was Bill Streng, Lydia Delis-Schlosser (a Tandem employee), and another Tandem employee whose name I’ve forgotten. Lunch was provided.

    From my perspective, the meeting was clearly designed/intended to promote the large senior housing project that Whitcombe and Streng have been planning for the Covell property across the street from the Nugget Market (i.e. they showed a site plan, provided specific details on the proposed units and amenities, and asked for feedback on their project design). In other words, it was about pitching their project and not about trying to synthesize a consensus about the senior housing needs of the greater community.

    The obvious entanglement of CHA with the owners of the Covell property raises any number of disturbing questions. For example:

    (1) Do Whitcombe, Streng, and/or their partners still bankroll the activities of CHA?
    (2) If not, who is now paying the bills?
    (3) Is CHA a legally constituted entity?
    (4) Does CHA have periodic meetings, dues, bylaws, etc?
    (5) Is the CHA leadership elected by the overall membership? If so, when is the next election?
    (6) Is there a listing of the CHA roster (available either to the membership or the public) so that the community can validate their claim of 400 members?
    (7) Do any of the steering committee members have financial conflicts of interest (either past, present, or anticipated in the future) with individuals and/or entities tied to the Covell property?

    Personally, I think there should be full voluntary disclosure and/or rigorous investigative reporting on these and similar questions before the city gives CHA any more air time.

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