RIDGEWOOD, N.J. — Three dozen people turned out for a public forum Wednesday night to brainstorm ideas to make Ridgewood more senior-friendly.
“We need a senior committee or a spot on the village council,” said Baron Rightmyer.
That way, he added, seniors will have ongoing representation in all challenge areas identified in a survey conducted by the Age-Friendly Ridgewood Initiative.
The survey went out last fall to all 6,000 people ages 55 and older in the village, initiative team leader Beth Abbott told the crowd.
Six problem areas for seniors identified in the survey were: housing, transportation, pedestrian safety, assistance with household tasks, employment and volunteer opportunities, and engagement of seniors.
The suggestions flowed: establishing an Angie’s List for seniors who need help with household tasks; creating an Adopt-A-Grandparent program pairing an elder with a high school volunteer; broadcasting information for seniors on Ridgewood’s own channel – 77 on cable and 34 on Fios.
“Many seniors don’t have computers,” said one woman, “but they all watch TV.”
Bill Carbone said Glen Courts Senior Citizen Housing on Glen Avenue in Glen Rock is a model of what could be created in Ridgewood.
“The people there are the same age and get along together,” he said. “They can walk downtown, too.”
Being burdened with a large tax bill for a large house is a huge issue in the village, many agreed.
“Seniors get no benefits from the taxes,” said Martin Walker. “Seventy-five percent of the taxes go to children and education.”
Unless there’s a way to reduce taxes for seniors, Rightmyer added, they'll move away.
“If you can’t pay for your taxes, you can’t stay,” he said. “It begins and ends there.”
Sheila Brogan, a geriatric social worker who is part of the age-friendly initiative, opened the evening with some eye-popping statistics:
- Nine percent of Ridgewood residents age 55 and over have incomes less than $24,999.
- Twenty-four percent have incomes between $24,000 and $74,999.
“Some of you may find that surprising,” Brogan said.
As for getting around the village, Sue Ullrich, activity and resource coordinator for Ridgecrest Senior Housing on Ridge Road, advocated for smoother walkways and better lighting.
“After 6 or 7 at night, people don’t feel safe walking because of lighting,” said Ullrich, noting that seniors tend to have eyesight issues and noting that uneven sidewalks wreak havoc with those who use walkers and canes.
The next step is for the age-friendly initiative, a project of the Ridgewood Community Center Advisory Board, to fashion programs using the ideas bandied about and then seek grant funding to implement them.
The survey was funded by a $24,000 grant from The Henry and Marilyn Taub Foundation, which also provides $75,000 yearly grants to create changes in a community.