PROVINCETOWN — When the town’s council on aging moved into its new, expanded location in the summer of 2013, director Chris Hottle expected the upgrade to translate into increased visibility for the agency.
With office space in the newly renovated Veterans Memorial Community Center (the former elementary school), perhaps more residents would take note of the services it offers and begin to utilize them, she thought.
What she didn’t necessarily expect was a full 15 percent increase in its clientele base over the course of the next year.
“We had 800 people use the COA for one thing or another in 2014,” she said. “It’s hard to say exactly what it’s attributable to, but that’s a significant increase.”
The growth of the COA, which provides transportation and other social services to local residents ages 60 and older, might be partly explained by its new digs. But then, without any significant budget or staff increases in recent years, the answer might also be something more simple: Provincetown is getting older.
According to U.S. Census figures from 2010, more than one-third of all Provincetown residents are now over the age of 60. Even as the overall population declined from 3,431 in 2000 to 2,942 in 2010 — marking the first time the town’s population has dropped below 3,000 since 1970 — the number of residents ages 60 and older actually increased by almost 20 percent.
Compare that to a 24 percent decrease in the rest of the adult population, and it’s not surprising that the median age in Provincetown jumped from 45.4 to 52.3 during the last decade (Truro’s median age is 53.7; Wellfleet’s, 53.5; Eastham’s, 56.6; Orleans’, 58.9).
Barnstable County as a whole is older than the rest of the state, with 27.1 percent over the age of 65 versus the state’s 14.8 percent. From 2000 to 2010, the county’s median age rose from 44.6 to 49.9. (See chart for additional age facts by town.)
Despite the exodus of younger residents — Provincetown’s 14.25 percent population decline was proportionately the largest (with its relatively small population to begin with) in Barnstable Country, where 10 of the 14 other towns also lost population in the last decade — local officials are expecting the aging of the town’s demographic to only accelerate in the years ahead.
“The trend is certainly there, and they’ve been saying for a long time that by the 2020 census things will really be changing,” Hottle said.
For a town like Provincetown, which has traditionally skewed older than state averages, this is perhaps not surprising. People are living longer, the Baby Boomer generation is entering retirement age, and Provincetown continues to serve as a desirable retirement destination, especially for second-home owners who transition to full-time residents as they move into their senior years.
On top of that, many seniors already own their homes, allowing them to largely ignore the challenging combination of a struggling year-round economy, costly real estate and a limited rental housing market that has driven others out.
And yet, senior housing remains a major and sometimes overlooked priority for local officials tasked with improving the town’s housing woes.
“It doesn’t get the same attention [as affordable or median-income housing], but I would say it’s a dire need,” said Michelle Jarusiewicz, the town’s community housing specialist.
When asked to assess the areas in which local seniors are still under-served or have the greatest unaddressed need, Hottle was quick to answer.
“The first thing that comes to mind is housing,” she said. “I think it’s important that we’re keeping seniors in the [housing] dialogue, because there really is a specialized need there.”
Within view of the COA offices, the town’s biggest player in senior housing recognized that same need and has seized an opportunity to fill it.
Seashore Point, which also operates Provincetown’s only nursing home facility, completed construction of an 82-unit private residences wing last March.
The condos, which are billed as “independent living residences” for people 55 years and older, could eventually house more than 100 residents.
So far, the condos are more than 60 percent sold and the remaining 30 units could be filled within the year, said Seashore Point executive director Joanna Lovely.
The project has largely been heralded as a win for local senior housing, but at prices starting in the mid-$300,000s, they don’t entirely round out the market.
While Seashore Point works to sell off its remaining market-price condos, the project’s nine “affordable-level” units have already been filled and a small-but-growing waiting list has begun to form.
In Provincetown, it’s good to get in early.
Maushope, the town’s largest publicly funded senior housing complex, has an estimated seven- to 10-year wait list for one of its 24 units.
“It’s always been that way,” said Jarusiewicz, who named expanding affordable senior housing one of the town’s community housing council’s top priorities.
“Clearly, there’s a great need there,” she said.
Over the past year, a major expansion at Maushope has been targeted as the solution to alleviating the affordable housing needs facing Provincetown seniors.
Considering the town’s well-documented land constraints, the town had hoped to build an addition onto the existing Maushope complex at 44 Harry Kemp Way or acquire adjacent land for new construction.
In theory, the existing site or surrounding area could support an expansion that doubles Maushope’s size, Jarusiewicz said. But first, it would need to scrap its current septic system and undergo a costly connection to the town’s municipal sewer system to increase its wastewater capacty.
The town applied for an $800,000 Massachusetts Community Development Block Grant to pay for the sewer connection, but were denied the funds over the summer.
Jarusiewicz said an expansion at Maushope remains a top priority, but momentum has stalled while town officials and the Provincetown Housing Authority determine their next course of action.
The town could reapply for the same state grant or pursue USDA funds that become available in 2015, she said.
“As always, it can be a slow process.
But we are still very optimistic about expanding at Maushope,” Jarusiewicz said.