MADISON — When Dolly Sevison stood up at a recent selectmen’s meeting, she described herself as a senior citizen who knows the value of an accessible, affordable place to live.

“I know what a ground-floor apartment means, say nothing of handicap-accessible,” she told Madison’s five selectmen. “They are scarcer than hen’s teeth.”

She was urging them to support a grant application to help convert a burned-out building in town into three apartments for the elderly. The building on Weston Avenue was destroyed in a fire set by two teenagers in December.

“We’re going to have a housing crisis for the elderly population in a few years,” Madison Economic Development Director Joy Hikel said.

About 20 percent of the town’s population is 65 or older, and 11 percent of people in that age bracket live below the poverty level. The fastest-growing age group is people 45 to 64 years old, Hikel said.

Madison is not alone. The town’s situation mirrors what is happening across the state: a growing elderly population and not enough places for them to live.

Maine’s population as a whole is getting older, according to a 2010 report compiled by Dana Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, and Laurie Lachance, president and CEO of the Maine Development Foundation.

Maine has the highest median age of any state — it was 41.2 in 2005 — and the rate of aging will increase in the next 15 years, according to the Making Maine Work report. By 2030, more than one-quarter of Maine’s population will be over the age of 65.

“An older population exerts pressure on housing, labor force, health care, transportation and state budgets,” the report states.

The State of Maine Housing Authority knows precisely how many more low-income rental housing units will be needed in the coming years.

In 2009, 4,048 subsidized units were needed for seniors; in 2014, that number is expected to jump more than 75 percent, to 7,159, according to information provided by Dan Simpson, public information manager for the independent state agency.

Maine defines renters who need assistance as families and seniors whose households make 80 percent of the median income or less, Simpson said. In 2008, that qualifying income was $37,135, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The renters who need assistance are likely to spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing.

Though there are far more families in need of low-income housing, their numbers are projected to hold steady. A total of 49,813 family housing units were required in 2009; just 50,456 are expected to be needed in 2014.

Republican U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe described the demand for affordable housing for seniors nationwide as critical, with at least 10 seniors vying for every available Section 202 housing unit.

Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly is a federal Department of Housing and Urban Development program that provides housing exclusively for low-income, elderly residents. By 2020, an additional 73,000 senior housing units will be required to address the nation’s growing need.

“Providing seniors with safe, accessible and affordable housing promotes an independent lifestyle,” Snowe said in a statement.

In Madison, Hikel and others concerned about the growing need for elderly housing will now wait to hear from the Maine Office of Community Development about the federally-funded Community Development Block Grant.

With the Madison selectmen’s blessing, Robert and Alan Ward, owners of the burned-out property and landlords of other apartments in town, would use the public money to pay a portion of the $175,000 to $200,000 they estimate it will cost to demolish the charred shell and construct anew.

Sevison, who already rents from the Ward brothers, said the men have good reputations as landlords and that their three proposed one-bedroom, first-floor apartments — if they are built — will be off the market in seconds.

Erin Rhoda — 474-9534

[email protected]

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