I heard it again at a recent public meeting: Port Townsend is a retirement community.
No. It is not.
The Census’ American Community Survey (ACS) averages the prior five years of data collected in between each decennial Census. The ACS for 2018 shows that median age here is now 55, but median means that half are younger and half are older. And yes, we have a bunch of folks over 65, including a not insignificant group between 75 and 84, and another 2.5% 85 and over. But we also have more than 16% of the population between birth and 19 and almost 22% in the 20-44 year age group. What may surprise the ‘retirement community’ believers is that there are more folks here in the 45-64 year age group (31.7%) than in the over 65 age group (30.4%). In total, the residents under 65 constitute almost 70% of our total population.
We just built a new elementary school to eventually accomodate 640 children from birth through 5th grade, with current enrollment of approximately 500. I’ve never seen a retirement community that needed or wanted an elementary school, or would be willing to vote to build one, but our community supported the school bond at more than 70%.
Port Townsend is a community of families and single folks (our mean household size is under 2), with the more recent addition of retirees from elsewhere who can afford to buy houses here (and yes, full disclosure, I am one of those). Those houses are out of reach for many locals. And we all know more than a few locals over the age of 65 who are not retired and cannot retire because the cost of living here prevents it. They may be oldish, but they’ll never get to be included in any ‘retirement community’.
Show me a retirement community that could pull off the Film Festival, the Wooden Boat Festival, Rhody, Kinetic, Race to Alaska and all the other events that inform and entertain us. Retirement communities don’t have thriving boatyards and marine trades workers, fishermen and women, mill workers, or a modern hospital that serves all ages. They have nursing homes and support staff who live elsewhere. Everyone who lives in a retirement community can by definition afford to live there. Here what we need is affordable housing for all those families and singles, many working retail and service jobs, who can’t afford to live here. Most of those folks who work here but live in the county would rather not have the commute, but there are virtually no available rentals and no houses for sale that they could manage to purchase.
Port Townsend’s 1996 Comprehensive Plan listed affordable housing as an urgent need. The 2016 Comprehensive Plan update does the same. We didn’t make any progress on the problem in 20 years. Political will is needed to solve this dilemma, not politics as usual. Can we see some movement on this issue so we don’t become a retirement community?