FORT COLLINS, Colo. (AP) - Thirty years ago, Ann Green pictured a comfortable retirement filled with long motorcycle trips with her husband.
Today, the 68-year-old Fort Collins resident is divorced, suffers from chronic back pain and lives with her two papillons, Bella and Mystic, in a subsidized apartment near City Park.
Green lost her job six years ago after back surgery. "I went on long-term disability and the company couldn't keep my job open," she said. "It hurt me. I had no warning."
Green moved to Fort Collins in 2011 to be near family. She spends her days volunteering, exercising, doting on her pups and reading. She picks up extra money where she can, this year working as an election judge to supplement her monthly $1,300 Social Security disability check.
Green is among a booming senior population in Fort Collins - a population for whom retirement looks vastly different than what they may have imagined, reported the Coloradoan.
Jobs and nest eggs lost to the Great Recession created what some are calling the greatest retirement crisis in American history. While Fort Collins' economy has long since recovered from the economic downturn, the city will be challenged to meet the various needs of a retirement-age population that's expected to double by 2030.
According to the state demographer's office, Larimer County's 39,665 residents aged 65 and older accounted for about 13 percent of the population in 2012. By 2030, seniors will make up 19 percent of the population, adding 39,600 older residents.
Only 8 percent of Fort Collins' population is 65 or older (12,458 people), but if the number of seniors in the city grows at the same rate as the county, Fort Collins would add 12,500 seniors by 2030.
Some of the growth comes from seniors moving here, "but we are growing our own," said Sue Beck-Ferkiss of Fort Collins' social sustainability office. "People are choosing not to retire elsewhere. They want to stay here."
A state report on aging said Colorado's aging population will have a profound impact on "virtually every Coloradan" over the next 14 years as the costs of health care and other senior services soar.
"A couple things will emerge," said Colorado State University regional economist Martin Shields. "It will change the dynamic of the housing market. No one wants to be in a 3,000-square-foot home when they don't need four bedrooms ... no one wants a big yard to take care of."
Fort Collins - with its healthy lifestyle, rich cultural offerings, extensive trail and park network, moderate climate and quality health care - is by most accounts a great place to retire.
Yet, there is work to be done.
Housing is limited for seniors of all income levels, including those hoping to downsize. Transportation routes have not kept up with changing demographics and older workers are in limited job demand. Pedestrian infrastructure such as sidewalks are often not elderly compatible and many Old Town stores are not handicapped accessible.
The area's changing demographics will have broad implications for Fort Collins policies on housing, transportation, workforce, health care, social services and taxes. In the coming months, the Coloradoan will dive into those issues through seniors preparing to spend their golden years here, residents for whom quality of life largely depends on two factors - health and wealth.
More seniors delay retirement
After retiring from 15 years in city government and 25 years in real estate, Linda Hopkins hadn't given retirement much thought beyond not working.
"I thought I would fill my time with volunteer work," she said.
Reading was always a treat and sewing was as a creative outlet. She had always volunteered and belonged to a service club.
"It sounds like enough, but it wasn't enough," said Hopkins, who retired Jan. 1, 2015. "In reality, I had an overdose of the 'idle hands theory.' "
Retirement, Hopkins said, "is doing things you enjoy with the resources you have - time, money and health. It took a while for me to figure out one of the things I enjoy most is 'working' and volunteer work."
While her husband, Donn, loved the flexibility retirement afforded, Hopkins struggled.
"I needed routine," she said. "Without routine I am the world's worst procrastinator."
Hopkins now works 20 to 30 hours weekly at a home goods store in Fort Collins, a job she said gives her the structure she was missing.
Income disparities limit options
With Colorado's life expectancy lengthening to 80.4 years, many retirees like Hopkins are returning to work or staying in the workforce longer, either by choice or necessity. According to the state demographer's office, nearly 24 percent of Larimer County residents 65 and older still work. And 24.5 percent of that same age group are projected to be part of the workforce in 2026, although the number of workers will grow.
Retirement wasn't part of Donn Hopkins' plans three years ago when Agilent eliminated his job in security management.
Despite an attractive separation agreement, the decision was a bit of a jolt, said Hopkins, who worked for the high-tech company for 10 years after a 32-year career in law enforcement.
Agilent "treated me well and made it very comfortable for me to leave, but I would have preferred to go on my own terms," said Hopkins, 67. "It was a little earlier than I had anticipated."
Finances were not a huge concern for the then 64-year-old Hopkins. He and his wife, Linda, had saved and built a diversified portfolio that includes investment property that could serve as their home if they decide to downsize.
"I started thinking of the things I could do in retirement that I didn't have time to do when working full time," he said.
"I wouldn't have to carry a pager or cellphone or be on call anymore; I did that for almost 40 years. This gave me an opportunity to think about hobbies, or maybe learning some new skill."
Two weeks before leaving Agilent, Hopkins was injured in a bicycle crash that limited his activity. "The timing was bad. The transition to the kind of active retirement that I wanted to do was delayed significantly."
Hopkins also has multiple sclerosis, a disease diagnosed more than 20 years ago that causes him to drag his feet slightly and keeps him on expensive medicines that cut into the couple's monthly finances.
Today, Hopkins volunteers with the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery, sings with the Silvertones, a group of about 150 older singers, and could be found in the announcer's booth at Hughes Stadium during CSU home football games helping "spot" the game.
Hopkins likes the flexibility retirement offers. He and Linda plan to travel more throughout the U.S., visiting family and friends.
"We have friends all over the country. I think we should look them all up and spend one night with each of them," he said.
Not everyone is as fortunate as Hopkins, who had ample retirement income and did not need to go back to work.
Nearly 6 percent of Fort Collins' seniors live in poverty - a lower percentage than younger residents - though about 18 percent of those 60 or older in Larimer County live on less than $1,800 per month, an amount at which seniors struggle to maintain a minimum standard of living, according to the Larimer County Office on Aging.
Much of the poverty experienced by seniors can be traced to nearly half of Colorado's private-sector workers lacking access to retirement savings plans at work, according to a Bell Policy Center report released in April. That means nearly 50 percent of all private-sector workers will be almost totally dependent on Social Security, a federal program designed to replace only about 40 percent of a worker's income, according to the study.
Access to work-sponsored retirement programs is lowest among low-wage earners and Hispanics, according to the Bell Policy Center.
Senior housing: nowhere to go
Realtor Ken Anderson faces a conundrum common to many older Fort Collins residents. He's old enough to retire, but doesn't have the desire or the financial wherewithal to do so.
Divorced with grown children, Anderson said when he leaves the office "there's nothing to do but go home" and watch TV. He's watched friends and former co-workers retire and do little but stay at home.
Anderson still sells real estate, but also drives for Uber to make a little extra money. He'll drive until 9 p.m., ferrying CSU students to downtown bars while cautioning them - especially the women - to be careful. He reminds them he won't be able to pick them up at 2 or 3 a.m.
"It's fun and interesting ... it's like adopting kids from CSU," he said.
Anderson and dozens of Realtors like him felt the sting of the recession when the bottom dropped out of the housing market.
Prior to that, he said he was in a solid financial position. "I owed nothing, everything was paid off. Then the crunch hit. I thought it would only last a year."
It lasted much longer. Today, at 67, Anderson still has a mortgage, car payment, student loans he cosigned for his kids and he's draining his 401(k) to meet living expenses.
"We survived, but now we're rebuilding," he said.
His four-bedroom house is too big for Anderson and his black lab, Cosmo, but there are few housing options in Fort Collins that make financial sense. He wants to downsize, "but can't find anything that satisfies me price wise."
He's looking for a three-bedroom patio home with two-car garage for less than $300,000.
But as any potential Fort Collins home buyer knows, there's a limited supply of homes in the city at Anderson's price point. Anderson could downsize, but with Fort Collins' median home price hovering at $350,000, his mortgage payment would not decrease unless he leaves Fort Collins, he said.
He found one house in Greeley he was considering. "I should have bought it, but when it came down to the last second, I couldn't leave Fort Collins."
City paying attention
The city of Fort Collins is studying what an aging population base means for city services. It has partnered with the Larimer County Office on Aging in the Partnership for an Age-Friendly Community, a program through AARP that looks at the challenges and opportunities created by an aging population.
"It is one of the really important collaborative projects that will prepare our community," Beck-Ferkiss said. "The market is starting to respond to the increase in seniors by providing more senior-helping-senior companies, in-home care companies ... Both policy and market demands are creating opportunities for the community to respond in a way that will really help our seniors remain comfortably in our community."
A 2014 analysis of social services conducted by the city determined that seniors face some of the greatest challenges to accessing the housing and services they need and may require public support and subsidies. The study identified gaps in housing, transportation and social services.
As many as 2,000 Fort Collins households, many senior-occupied, expressed a need for accessibility improvements. The survey determined that the need for accessibility improvements will increase in the next 15 to 20 years.
Roughly 150 to 200 seniors need affordable rental housing, based on wait list information from Housing Catalyst (formerly Fort Collins Housing Authority). The 2014 report showed 182 seniors on the wait list for public housing and 149 waiting for Section 8 vouchers.
Green, for example, waited overnight to be first in line for a housing voucher that enables her to stretch her monthly disability checks.
"I'm hurting by the end of the month," she said. "I maybe have a couple dollars left, so I don't go grocery shopping; King Soopers holds my prescriptions. I haven't been able to get the oil changed in my car for three years" and she can't afford a new mattress to help her back.
But Green doesn't complain that her retirement reality is far from what she expected. She appreciates Housing Catalyst's help in securing housing and now serves on its board of directors.
"This is home," she said.
About this series
The wave of U.S. residents reaching retirement age is often called the silver tsunami. Created by the sheer size of the Baby Boomer generation, the "tsunami's" peak has not yet crested, but will in about 10 years. The increased number of retirement-age residents will have a profound influence on trends in Fort Collins including transportation, housing, health care and social services.
A four-part series will explore those issues through the eyes of seniors who are enjoying the good life and those who are struggling, to those who retired before they were ready and those who don't see retirement in their future.
We will also examine how millennials and Gen Xers can prepare for their own retirement.
Read more at the Fort Collins Coloradoan: http://noconow.co/2hhKnoF