“If we continue to see the Baby Boomers as a problem, we will miss the potential resource that they are!”
Happy September! Change is certainly in the air! The sound of locusts and crickets fill the cool night air–already! And the Hope & A Future household will once again see changes this fall! Sue and Sam will be moving forward with their goals after spending 2 years with us and Karen will be moving to MI to be near her daughter and grandchildren after working side by side with us for 20 years of this journey! We will miss having all of them in our daily lives and we wish them the best as they take on new adventures!
There is so much change going on in our world that people now regularly talk about what our new normal will be. Will the pandemic end or become endemic? What about climate change? Where is our economy headed? And what about the aging baby boomers? That’s a lot of questions! And we need to talk to each other to process all of the information in front of us. And then decide what our role will be in the days ahead.
The end of August I had the pleasure of attending and speaking at the Environments for Aging Conference in Chattanooga TN. The conference was full of architects, interior designers, providers, educators and gerontologists looking at how to prepare for and adapt to the needs of aging baby boomers. The population is currently aging and how we provide a safety net for older adults needs to change. Traditional approaches are too expensive for most families and for the government. The caregiver crisis is growing exponentially in the wrong direction. For most baby boomers the current options for frail seniors do not look satisfying. Researchers tell us that most Americans fear institutionalization more than death. Baby Boomers have been more active and involved in the greater community than the Silent Generation before them. While the Silent Generation thought it was best not to speak out or rock the boat, baby boomers have been rocking the boat with emphasis for most of their adult lives! Baby boomers want to age differently. They are less interested in senior retirement communities, preferring to be in the mix of generations and involved in the developments of local communities. However, Baby boomers are not as prepared financially for retirement as the silent generation was. And they are living longer. Almost half of them do not have retirement savings and of those that do, most do not have enough to live on–but too much to qualify for help. So something new needs to be done.
At the conference, awards for beautiful designs in seniors housing were given. Awards went to projects that had the privilege of doing what an imagination can do when it is not hindered by a tight budget. Yet, I heard presenters say that they could not afford to live in the places they had designed! Over the years of working on our TIIN model I have heard quite a few developers and architects talk about the day they realized they would not want to live in any of the senior housing they had developed–even if they could afford to! While older adults desire vibrant places to live, they also need affordability.
Knowing that 45% of baby boomers have no savings for retirement is important information. For many, social security income equals an annual income of $10K to $18K. If a person needs to pay property taxes–they will be hard pressed to eat. In the online article, Are We in a Baby Boomer Retirement Crisis? By Barbara A. Friedberg (August 2021) she writes:
Research by the Insured Retirement Institute (IRI) also suggests trouble for many retiring Boomers. IRI found that 45% have no retirement savings. Out of the 55% who do, 28% have less than $100,000. This suggests that approximately half of the retirees are, or will be, living off of their Social Security benefit.
There are many reasons Baby Boomers have not done as well financially. The economy has been a factor. The cost of living for housing, transportation and healthcare increased dramatically while wages stayed stagnant. As a result many baby boomers used more of their income for living expenses which left less money available for savings. During this time, many employers stopped offering retirement savings plans. As a group Baby boomers were less careful with money. They did not live through the great depression and had more of a “the sky is the limit” way of thinking. They wanted to travel more, do more and have bigger houses. So they spent more. Often that spending involved borrowing rather than cash. And then came the 2008 recession hit–largely driven by subprime mortgage lending. The average size of a family home went from 1000 square feet in the 1950s to 2400 square feet by 2000. With increased square footage comes more upkeep and room for more stuff! Now as baby boomers face retirement they are retiring with a big houseful of stuff instead of money.
And then there is the caregiver workforce crisis. I have been involved with long term care for over 40 years. There has always been a staff shortage. Now that shortage is increasing exponentially. So we need to ponder that problem too.
At the conference there were multiple sessions looking at how to provide an intergenerational living option for seniors. Although it was not discussed, I can tell you that getting multiple generations under one roof is very difficult because of regulatory silos. Housing for seniors and housing for families and affordable housing each have a regulatory silo. These regulatory silos make it close to impossible to bring different ages and income levels together–even though doing so in a well thought out program will build more resilience and equity than we have seen in housing silos. Developers and architects presented a few projects where senior housing was near family housing or a school or a day care center. Presenters would say, “so they will see each other . . .” While I enjoy people watching, it is not the same as interacting. And getting people to interact with folks that are in any way different is not something Americans have done well. Even at the conference people stated, “This is a multigenerational development you are proposing, but it does not seem to be interactive. So, it is multigenerational, but not intergenerational.” One presenter said, “You are right. We hope that one day someone will come up with an interactive model.” I raised my hand and said, “I have been living intergenerationally for 20 years–working on an intergenerational model that provides programs and services cradle to grave. For 20 years, we have been sifting through the many ordinances that have stopped the development of a truly interactive intergenerational neighborhood. With 18 years of pro bono help from lawyers, we have found a legal path. I hope we will be breaking ground in 2022–to build the first complete TIIN model–our goal is to create a replicable interactive intergenerational neighborhood that will be helpful and interesting to all income levels. In the first phase of development young and old have genuinely flourished. If you want to learn more, I will be presenting tomorrow morning!” It was a joy to see that people understood the problems our model was designed to solve! I truly believe the TIIN will help with many of societies seemingly intractable problems as diverse people come together to hear each others stories, learn from each other and create more inclusive, equitable, green and creative communities.
In our presentation, we talked about the characteristics of baby boomers. I presented with two architects. Two out of three of us are baby boomers, so we knew what we were talking about! And the younger architect sees the problems and the potential for TIIN replication in suburban, rural and urban settings. The Therapeutic Interactive Intergenerational Neighborhood or TIIN, addresses many of the concerns of our aging population. The TIIN provides a safety net for healthy to frail seniors. It also provides a safety net for staff and young families desiring mentoring in an intergenerational living experience. The TIIN model has programs designed to meet cradle to grave needs. The model empowers younger and older people to help each other, learn together and have fun in the process!
My passion for intergenerational living comes from the benefit I experienced as a child living among interactive intergenerational relatives and neighbors. Neighbors provided a safety net for me after my 33 year old father’s sudden death. Later, I saw a precious neighborhood grandmother suffer through poor care in an understaffed nursing home. I became a nurse hoping to find a way to improve those conditions. As a nurse, I met many young parents trying to work and care for their children with inadequate income. The cost of daycare amounted to over half of their paychecks. That did not allow enough money to pay for food or rent. So the children suffered with inadequate care too. While there are challenges with an intergenerational model, there are far more rewards and solutions! Children + loving older adults = magic!
And having older adults as friends while raising children helps parents see the forest when it is easy to get lost in the trees! Our TIIN model is pioneering. In the first phase, the creation of an extended family of friends model has been amazing. Vulnerable people experience safety and joy and share it with visitors who experience hope for the generations! Our program supports residents, their loved ones, our staff and engages the community. Unique cost containment includes help from neighbors, volunteers and each other. Live-in staff are offered onsite living arrangements in exchange for helping with evening and weekend hours. This gives caregivers a support system and a stable home while residents benefit from a stable staff. In our next phase, an internal time bank will help stretch budgets and coordinate helpful efforts of neighbors in independent living housing. Each household will give time to their neighborhood each week. This will build a supportive community, build intergenerational relationships and help to stretch budgets.
Intergenerational programs will be coordinated between staff, residents and the volunteer coordinator. Regular intergenerational potluck dinners and house concerts have been an important part of our culture. As have gardening, arts, crafts, dance and exercise groups. Garden to table meals and traditions around holiday celebrations have created a special kind of welcoming community. Leadership staff live on site and first time visitors are often surprised when they feel like a welcome guest in a busy home. The TIIN model at Hope & A Future is only in the first phase, but already it is not business as usual. Young and old do more than survive–they genuinely thrive! Seniors become healthier and staff are supported to move forward with their goals! We currently provide care at a lower cost while offering a higher quality of life.
Hope & A future III, inc. is the charitable non-profit piloting the first TIIN model. Hope & A Future is here because of community support. We are planning for a capital campaign to build the first model. Your giving will help us build brighter futures for young and old! Our goal is replication and one of the architects I presented with is hoping we will build it soon as he hopes to replicate in a variety of settings. His ideas for replication were presented at the Environments For Aging conference. We all believe getting the first complete TIIN up and running will help us learn more as we serve a variety of intergenerational needs on one site! Offering day care programs for children and seniors to TIIN neighbors and the surrounding community will bring community members into our neighborhood center. Vibrant intergenerational programs and events create more vibrant and inclusive communities. Please follow us as we move forward with building the first TIIN! Together we can make a beautiful new normal!