Published: 10/27/2023 3:15:01 PM
Modified: 10/27/2023 3:13:39 PM
SHELBURNE FALLS — Executive Office of Elder Affairs Secretary Elizabeth Chen visited with members of the state’s first regional senior services district on Thursday to talk about addressing the needs of the region’s seniors, including housing.
Chen met with Senior Center Director Julianne “Juli” Moreno; members of the councils on aging for Ashfield, Buckland and Shelburne; representatives of the Senior Center Foundation; state Rep. Natalie Blais, D-Deerfield; and Jon Gould, an aide to state Sen. Paul Mark, D-Becket.
“My big takeaway is that this is a very dedicated, caring group of volunteers who want to do the right thing,” Chen commented. “They have already done a lot in unifying the three communities into one. They’re future-looking. I am struck by just how committed people are to their community. It is heartwarming.”
The formation of the West County Senior Services District, which consists of the towns of Shelburne, Buckland and Ashfield, was signed into law on Jan. 5, on the last day of Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration. The district had been in the works since 2017.
Between social events, health and wellness classes, transportation programs, free meals and assistance with health care paperwork through a program called SHINE (Serving the Health Insurance Needs of Everyone), the shared Senior Center offers services to about 200 people from each of the three towns, according to Moreno.
While the district hopes to expand in outreach as well as square footage for its Senior Center, the main topic of discussion on Thursday centered around the difficulty of finding housing in the region.
With many seniors in western Franklin County living alone in large farmhouses, Chen offered innovative solutions to the longstanding difficulties around housing here.
The main idea Chen was excited about sharing involves getting seniors to move in together to these larger homes in a “private shared model.” Seniors could move into privately owned homes together on individual leases. She argued this would not only free up housing in the region’s heavily burdened housing market, but would allow seniors to be less isolated as they age.
“I don’t think aging alone is a healthy thing,” Chen said. “Being isolated is not safe and it is not good for your mental health. It is much better to have at least one other person in the house.”
Chen also spoke about an app that exists in more populated areas called Nesterly. This app connects seniors who have extra rooms in their homes to lease with people who are in search of housing for a discounted price, sometimes in exchange for services. This exists in Franklin County as well, through the LifePath Home Share program. She said programs like these could help remedy housing issues across the state.
“We are strong believers in aging in community and at home,” Chen told those who gathered at the Senior Center. “No one says, ‘When I grow up, I want to move into a nursing home.’”
Many attendees felt that rethinking and expanding housing would positively impact the region’s seniors.
“We need to rethink how we age in general,” said Joanne Soroka, a member of the Buckland Council on Aging. “We have an opportunity to change how we age here.”
Chen is optimistic that the Healey-Driscoll administration’s housing bond bill will solve some of the issues discussed during her visit. The bill is a five-year plan with $4.12 billion in funding and policy reforms aimed at spurring much-needed production of new units, upgrading the aging and neglected public housing stock, and converting state land into housing-ready plots.
“From the administration perspective,” Chen said, “the bond bill will help stimulate construction of new units at a local level, allowing for new construction.”
Reach Bella Levavi at 413-930-4579 or email@example.com.