Fairfax County seniors struggle with living costs

December 22, 2022

Fairfax County Times

By Richard H. Hronik III

Senior citizens are struggling to live and retire in Fairfax County, facing difficulties that include rising taxes, increased cost of living, and isolation.

Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity raised the issue faced by senior citizens in his newsletter late last month. He referred to concerns voiced by residents at a Springfield SHAPE the Future of Aging focus group, meant to act as a platform for residents to voice the needs and challenges of seniors as well as recommended solutions. Herrity is chairman of the Board of Supervisors’ Older Adults Committee and has been working with county staff on a follow-up to the 50+ Community Action Plan.

 “What I’m hearing from a lot of seniors is, their tax bill is now bigger than their mortgage used to be,” Herrity said. “And of course, most of them are living on a very fixed income. Their taxes keep going up, and their fixed incomes aren’t going up very much…Our taxes are significantly outpacing inflation. Taxes have increased 50 percent over the past 10 years.”

Despite some progress being made, Herrity said there is still a long way to go. “We’ve got an initial round of senior tax relief, passed last year. We’ve got some creative ideas that weren’t part of the 50+ Community Action Plan, things like home share to help keep residents in their homes…Seniors have 401ks that they saved to live on…and of course, our formula for senior tax relief is entirely asset-based, so if you did what we’re trying to encourage our citizens to do and save up for retirement, that ends up counting against you…”

While taxes are a sticking point for seniors in Fairfax, they are far from the only challenge. “When you get older, you have certain things you need to afford, but with a fixed income…that’s just not a good fit for me,” said Gina DiMatteo. 

DiMatteo lived in Falls Church for 58 years with her husband Frank. Now, her husband is in an assisted living facility, and she lives alone.

“I’m spending a lot more money as I’m getting older, not just for me but for Frank…I’m worrying about, if I survive Frank, what’s gonna be left for me?”

“No. It’s not [affordable],” DiMatteo said about the cost of living in Fairfax. “You have to be prepared ahead of time in order to be able to stay in Fairfax County, otherwise you’ll be forced to move out, from what I’m experiencing. [The cost of living] has definitely gone up, many times over.”

However, there are programs in place to help seniors struggling with living expenses. The SHAPE the Future of Aging Program, initially introduced in 2019, is scheduled to be approved in early 2023. According to Trina Mayhan-Webb, division director with Fairfax County Department of Family Services, Adult and Aging Services, the plan has changed a lot over the past two years.

“The initial Community Assessment Survey for Older Adults (CASOA) was administered in 2019,” Mayhan-Webb said. “In 2021, the Older Adults Committee requested that the community be re-surveyed to capture any changes that may have occurred because of the pandemic.”

According to Mayhan-Webb, SHAPE the Future of Aging aims to solve several challenges faced by Fairfax’s seniors today, including caregiver support, affordable housing, mental health, and isolation.

DiMatteo, however, believes there needs to be more than just a government effort to bring aid to senior citizens. 

“The younger generation should be encouraged to be connected with family members that are older,” she said. “If you have a neighbor that you know is elderly and needs a phone call, or someone to hold their hand, that’s up to the communities, not the government. The people in the communities should be amicable to give a helping hand – with their time, not money.”

“The Adult and Aging Division will monitor the progression of [SHAPE the Future of Aging] as approved by the Board of Supervisors,” said Mayhan-Webb. With the plan on schedule to be approved next year, it will remain to be seen whether it meets the needs of Fairfax County’s seniors.