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Senior population booms in Kane and is still growing

(Left to right) June DeWolf, Mildred Howard and Harriet Cox visit one another in the lobby area at Heritage Woods of Batavia assisted living community. "We laugh more than we chat," said Cox.
(Left to right) June DeWolf, Mildred Howard and Harriet Cox visit one another in the lobby area at Heritage Woods of Batavia assisted living community. "We laugh more than we chat," said Cox.

Ten years ago, the data justified the decision by Stephen Yenchek’s company to begin development of a new senior housing complex west of Geneva.

And now, a decade later, the decision to build the Greenfields of Geneva looks even better.

“When we went through our feasibility studies some years ago, they showed that this project was worthwhile,” said Yenchek, president and CEO of Schaumburg-based Friendship Senior Options. “But we were working off of census data from 2000.

“And the general trends we saw then have been borne out.”

In a few weeks, Yenchek and those overseeing the new Greenfields senior housing development near Mill Creek will welcome their first residents – senior citizens, most more than 75 years old.

And when Greenfields opens its doors, it will become one of the latest business venture specifically targeted toward meeting the needs of one of the fastest growing segments of the population of Kane County.

Many senior residents of Kane and nearby counties still choose to fly away south, to spend their retirements in the sunshine and year-round warmth of places such as Arizona and Florida.

But the latest round of data from the 2010 U.S. Census appears to show that a growing number of those in the golden years of life appear to be opting to remain in local communities, closer to family and near the part of the world that they have called home.

According to the 2010 Census, the number of Kane County residents aged 65 and over grew rapidly from 2000 to 2010, increasing by 46 percent.

Overall, the number of senior citizens in Kane County increased from 33,981 at the time of the 2000 Census to 49,690 in 2010.

However, the number of senior citizens aged 65 to 79 who called Kane County home increased even faster, jumping 48 percent from 24,817 in 2000 to 36,769 last year, the U.S. Census Bureau reported.

Senior citizens also increased as an overall proportion of Kane County’s population, as well.

Senior citizens aged 65 and over in 2010 made up 9.6 percent of the county’s 515,269 residents. In 2000, residents in that age demographic accounted for just 8.4 percent of the county’s population.

The growth of the senior citizen population within the Tri-Cities was a little slower than in the county overall. It was still rapid, however.

From 2000 to 2010, the number of senior  residents in St. Charles, Geneva and Batavia, combined, increased by 35.9 percent, from 6,942 senior citizens to 9,436 at the end of the last decade.

The rapid rise of a grayer population has already sparked many changes in the local economy and will continue to bring more changes in coming years, said Matt Maloney, deputy chief of staff at the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, a public agency that helps counties and local governments in the Chicago area plan for future development.

CMAP projects that, by 2040, the number of residents aged 65 to 84 will have doubled in the Chicago area.

That demographic trend, known in planning circles as “graying” of the Chicago area, will prompt a number of changes from business, industry and local governments.

“The dynamics of the economy will change,” Maloney said.

He noted that it will prove a challenge for those in health care, who might need to redesign how they deliver services to adjust to an older population.

It also will produce a shift in the strategies of retailers, who will need to adjust to an older population that may prove less mobile than in the past. He said the “big box” retail design – in which large stores are placed in strip retail developments along busy highways – may need to be rethought, as retailers respond to the needs of older customers who might not be able to drive themselves in their own cars to where they need to go.

And Maloney noted that local governments in outer-ring suburban communities, such as those in Kane County, may need to begin investing in improving transportation options for such elderly and less independently mobile residents.

“We’re thinking about public transportation,” Maloney said. “It’s going to be vital.”

He said such changes will be forced in areas where senior populations are growing rapidly and where development has followed a traditional suburban design – single-family homes clustered in neighborhoods, removed from shopping and services, such as health care, and all of it accessible primarily by automobile.

“We don’t want to foster the type of region where if, you’re not able to drive your car by yourself, you’ve got to get out of here,” Maloney said.

But few sectors of the economy will be impacted by the graying population more than housing.

Many senior citizens are choosing to leave the traditional single-family houses they have lived in, to find more suitable accommodations for their retirement years.

That undoubtedly will place strain on the already-troubled housing market, as more available inventory is added to the supply by seniors seeking to sell their old homes, said John Hall Jr., co-owner of John Hall Homes, a custom home builder in St. Charles.

But he said that strain is not something that couldn’t be absorbed by an otherwise healthy market.

“Right now, any little piece that changes is going to place strain on this market, because it sucks so bad,” said Hall.

Rather, Hall said he prefers to focus on the opportunities presented by the changing market.

He said at least 20 percent of his business now comes from “empty nesters” – people aged 55 and over – and that demand continues to grow.

He said most of those customers have lived in traditional single-family homes, such as those that line the streets of subdivisions throughout the Tri-Cities, but now are wanting something more suited to life in their retirement years, such as ranch homes with few stairs.

“They want something maybe smaller, or just laid out better,” he said.

The homes are being built in traditional neighborhoods, Hall said, and typically don’t come cheap.

“They might go down in size, but they’re willing to spend more on details and finishes,” Hall said. “They tell me that they’ve lived in a few homes in their time, and they know what they want.

“They want this to be just right, because this is the place they’re going to live for the rest of their lives.”

However, many more senior residents appear to be opting for living arrangements that require even less maintenance.

Already, the Tri-Cities and Kane County have become home to a growing number of housing developments targeted specifically to those aged 55 and over.

And many, such as Greenfields of Geneva and Heritage Woods of Batavia, have been targeted at an even more elderly segment of the population, aged 75 and over.

At Heritage Woods, marketing director Laurie Coleman said demand for the 148 independent living apartments available at that facility has been heavy.

She said all apartments are occupied, and the company is working off of a wait list for the last two years.

Coleman said the story is the same at the other senior developments operated in the region – in South Elgin, Yorkville, DeKalb, McHenry and Huntley – by Heritage Woods’ parent company, BMA Management.

“We’re all full, and we all have waiting lists,” Coleman said.

She said many residents are coming to the senior housing complexes from nearby communities. And others are coming back to the region after having moved away, she said.

“They’re getting older, and they don’t want to spend their last years that far away from their families, in Arizona or Florida,” Coleman said. “They want to come home.”

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