76 million: Number of baby boomers
15 percent: Share of Hamilton County population over age 65
120 percent: National increase in number of people over age 65 by 2050
Source: Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency
Environmental Protection Agency staffers are coming to Chattanooga this spring with people like Eddie and Fannie Holmes on their minds.
The couple, both in their 60s, spent the majority of their adult lives obtaining and maintaining their 11-room home near state Highway 58. Since retiring and developing health problems, they could no longer maintain it nor climb its 15-step stairway. This year they gave it up for a three-bedroom apartment.
"You spend all of your life working on your dream home, and then time has a way of letting you know there is another side of life," said Eddie Holmes, board chairman for the Chattanooga Housing Authority and retired TVA employee.
The EPA's mission during the May visit is to help local officials design communities for senior citizens.
As the population ages, it will be necessary to plan for the changing needs and abilities of older people, said EPA spokesman William McBride. Supportive neighborhood design can help residents "age in place" and maintain health and activities, he said.
The EPA officials will consider access to transportation and grocery stores, housing options, handicap accessibility and meeting places.
Beverly Johnson, Neighborhood Services and Community Development administrator, said there's a need to look ahead.
"If the city does nothing to plan for healthy aging, potential outcomes could be lack of appropriate housing for an older population, inadequate amenities such as health care, transportation, recreation, etc.," Johnson said.
And the federal agency isn't working alone. The federal departments of Housing and Urban Development and Transportation are participating in the plan. Together, the three agencies coordinate federal investments in infrastructure, facilities and services to assist communities.
The baby boomer generation is the second-largest in the country with about 76 million people. The population over age 65 is expected to grow nationally by 120 percent by 2050, according to Chattanooga's housing study conducted by the Chattanooga Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency.
Locally people 65 and older account for about 15 percent of Hamilton County's population.
The EPA chose Chattanooga as one of 43 cities nationwide, out of 121 applicants, to which the agency will provide assistance in planning a sustainable community for healthy aging.