Housing Baltimore County's Elderly

November 30, 1992

Baltimore County adds more gray hairs by the day. Som 137,000 people over 60 lived in the county last year. That figure is approaching 139,000 and could reach 144,000 by decade's end.

A rapidly aging population poses problems for any jurisdiction. Among these is supplying pleasant, affordable housing for the ailing elderly. A woman named Brenda Walker has won a lengthy battle to provide just such housing for 15 seniors at a home she owns in Catonsville. By doing so, she may have blazed a path for similar residential facilities for the elderly, much needed in the county.

Ms. Walker, who also runs a residence for 15 seniors in West Baltimore, had some hurdles to clear before gaining approval to expand her Catonsville facility's capacity from six to 15. For over a year, she waited while County Executive Roger Hayden hemmed and hawed about proposing legislation to remove some of the development and zoning regulations that have stymied efforts such as Ms. Walker's. The administration reportedly will introduce its bill any day now.

Ms. Walker also faced opposition from area residents who feared the facility would set a precedent for commercial enterprises in the neighborhood. The residents had appealed the county zoning commissioner's favorable ruling on the facility. However, they dropped the challenge last week after realizing the county appeared finally determined to grant Ms. Walker's expansion request.

County officials say they like these private facilities because they offer more personal service, a more home-like atmosphere and a more manageable cost than those found at nursing institutions. The average monthly cost per resident at a home such as Ms. Walker's is about $1,000, a third of the monthly cost for a nursing home resident.

Such homes also ease the burden on the public sector to provide housing for infirm seniors. Baltimore County voters recently approved a $600,000 bond for the construction of houses for the elderly and low- to moderate-income people, but as one county official says, "That's a drop in the bucket."

Many older residents of this increasingly maturing county could use all the help they can get since the state budget crisis has caused cuts in programs for seniors. The county should move quickly to provide decent housing to those graying citizens who need it. Legislating away the obstacles Brenda Walker had to fight through would be a good start.

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