Not everybody living in Orem goes to sleep at night in a warm bed and with a full stomach.

It is estimated that close to 200 Orem senior citizens live below the poverty level. And about 100 of them may live in inadequate housing and be going without meals. The only meal that some senior citizens get is the one served each weekday in the Senior Citizens Center.But the exact number of Orem senior citizens living in poverty is unclear. City officials believe U.S. Census figures are low and the actual number is more than most people think.

So why are so many senior citizens going without food and adequate housing? And whose job is it to take care of them?

City officials say the biggest problem is the city's lack of affordable housing. And some say it's the city's job to provide that housing, because the private sector is not. Some senior citizens are spending every dollar they have on rent - with nothing left for food.

"We're not into taking care of the elderly; it's not in our culture," City Councilman Keith Hunt said. "But we do owe something to those people, and we do have a responsibility to take care of them."

At a recent City Council meeting, council members discussed the city's role in providing the elderly with affordable housing.

The city recently purchased about three acres at 400 East and 200 North to someday build a senior citizen housing project. The city hopes the project would be built with Section 202 funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development - a program that makes long-term loans for low-income housing projects, with the rent used to pay back the loan. The city would use community development block grant money to make the project attractive.

But because of anticipated opposition from neighbors and the uncertainty of the exact status of the city's senior citizens, the council is hesitant to move forward on the project. The city also has to find a non-profit organization to sponsor the project because it cannot be sponsored by a government agency.

City Manager Daryl Berlin said the main issues are the housing project's design and density. The project would probably include about three buildings each of 20 units and three stories. For some, such a development is an intrusion into their neighborhood. Berlin said the project will generate controversy no matter where it is located.

"It's a key policy decision because it's going to make a difference in what the community looks like," Berlin said.

"Unfortunately, some neighborhood is going to get stuck with this. And as much as we dress it up, it's obviously going to be a large building," Hunt said.

Douglas Cox, a resident near the 400 East property, said the neighborhood is not against senior citizen housing but would prefer single-level units to a taller building. He said the neighborhood is frustrated with the city's indecision.

"It's frustrating to us because we never know where we stand," Cox said.

Senior planner Jim Wilbur said the city needs to make a decision soon because Section 202 applications are due the first week in March, with possible approval coming about six months later. He said competition among cities for 202 funding is strong and a delay would hurt the city's chances.

But most City Council members said that before moving ahead the city must identify the needs of the city's senior citizens. A Brigham Young University statistics class will identify those through a survey that will begin soon.

"If we build a project like this then we would like to know how many people would qualify and if they would be willing to move into it," Wilbur said.



Older and poorer

Age 1990 1995 2000

0-19 32,597 35,409 44,396

17-59 31,507 34,854 46,514

60-plus 4,896 5,937 9,090

Senior citizens living in poverty status:

167 203 311

Source: U.S. Census Bureau