Residents don’t want to retire in San Jose
An aerial view of downtown San Jose is pictured in this file photo.

    San Jose residents don’t think the city is a good place to retire.

    In the latest annual audit of city services, 60% of residents surveyed said San Jose was a “poor/very poor” place to retire. It’s a sharp contrast to the 59% who said the city is a “good/excellent” place to work.

    The city survey randomly sampled 1,464 adult residents who responded by telephone or online in either English, Spanish, Chinese or Vietnamese. It has a 2.6% margin of error.

    Data from the City Auditor’s annual services report.

    Advocates, senior citizens and elected officials said the primary reason the city is a poor place to retire is because the cost of living is too high, especially for those living on a fixed income. But it’s also a hard place to retire because transportation gaps make it difficult for seniors to move around, which can lead to isolation. Older adults also don’t always have access to resources like exercise classes or community centers, or may not know about existing support.

    Sophie Horiuchi-Forrester, San Jose regional director for senior nonprofit AARP, said affordability is the biggest issue for retirees.

    “It is not only that an older adult can’t afford to live here,” Horiuchi-Forrester told San José Spotlight. “When you are on a fixed income living in one of the most expensive areas in the country, your support system like your children, your caregivers and your friends may also not be able to afford to live in this area. So older adults also lose their support networks.”

    The AARP scores every city on “livability” for older adults. San Jose scores 58 out of 100, higher than most cities nationally. Where it falls short is housing, the environment, engagement and transit. Local cities that score higher include Mountain View and Oakland with 60 and San Francisco with 65.

    The cost of living in San Jose continues to increase, and so does the homeless population, including senior citizens who make up 40% of Santa Clara County’s unhoused residents, according to a 2022 tally.

    Former San Jose Councilmember Johnny Khamis said the No. 1 solution for making the city a better place to retire is to build more housing—especially affordable senior housing. Khamis, who termed out in 2020, used to facilitate an annual senior resource fair for South and West San Jose residents that continues today. The next senior resource fair is Feb. 24, hosted by Councilmembers Sergio Jimenez, Pam Foley and Arjun Batra at Oakridge Mall.

    “At the fair there was interest in health care, identity theft or after-life planning,” Khamis told San José Spotlight. “But the top issue was always that it is too expensive to live here.”

    Rents in San Jose average about $2,112, while in New York City rent payments average $1,832, according to a 2022 report by Seattle-based bill management company doxoInsights. San Jose residents also pay more in monthly bills, including mortgages and rent payments, utilities, car loans, health insurance and cell phone plans. The average resident pays $3,248 each month for these recurring bills, a whopping 62% above the national average of about $2,000, according to the report.

    Khamis said solving problems of affordability and increasing the housing stock are not entirely in the city’s control. However, he added there is much the city can do, including building more transit-oriented developments that place residents close to public transportation. VTA has 11 residential projects underway near light rail stations, which are anticipated to increase the agency’s annual revenue by $30 million in upcoming years.

    “My aunt is thinking about moving to Florida as we speak because even though she gets around on the buses, it takes a long time to get where you want to go as a senior,” Khamis said.

    Lack of transit cuts off seniors 

    Richard Sanders, president of the Almaden Senior Association, said as seniors lose their ability or comfort to drive, they need transit to connect them with the community.

    “We have people who stop showing up to the community center and when we ask them why it’s usually because they can’t drive or get around anymore,” Sanders told San José Spotlight. “There just aren’t as many services out there for those people as I would hope there would be.”

    VTA offers paratransit ride-share services for residents who cannot use regular bus and light rail transit service due to physical, visual and cognitive disabilities, but Sanders said many seniors do not know about this service. It can also take a long time to travel using the service.

    San Jose is improving its transit infrastructure to reach more places, such as the BART expansion into downtown. But that’s years away.

    Sanders said creating more accessible spaces like exercise classes, more senior community centers or affordable senior housing spaces where older adults can socialize will help make the city a better place to retire. He said his organization’s goal this year is to do more outreach to seniors about resources like social activities, meal programs and existing transportation services.

    Horiuchi-Forrester said while San Jose works on building housing and improving its transit infrastructure, the most impactful first step officials could take to make the city more livable is reach out to older adults and include them in all conversations to ensure their needs are met.

    “Their voices aren’t always included and when we talk about the Google development, for example, I hope someone is asking did we talk to somebody from the senior community,” she said. “I just don’t see that sometimes.”

    Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.

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