The architects of Scottsdale: A focus on those who built the community of today

Above is 79-year-old Scottsdale resident Sanyogta Anand, who has called, “The West’s Most Western Town” home for the last 20 years. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

Scottsdale is a community with many facets to many people, but as the municipality continues its economic march from bedroom community to metropolitan destination, some who live in the house Drinkwater built are being shown the proverbial door.

Human beings are living longer, retirees continue to flock to the southwest and Scottsdale remains the No. 1 retiree destination.

However, some longterm residents are finding the cost of living too much to remain here as municipal officials develop new strategies to make “The West’s Most Western Town” more affordable for the everyday senior resident.

But with a robust senior services effort — one city official contends was instilled by visionary leadership decades earlier — Scottsdale is positioned to quell the storm of what some refer to as a pending “silver tsunami.”

“It’s better to get outside in the morning, so you get moving,” says 79-year-old Sanyogta Anand, “because during the day it just feels better than at night now.”

Ms. Anand spent 32 years as a primary school teacher in New Delhi, India, but on June 30, 1999 she began to call a portion of the Sonoran Desert her forever home — the City of Scottsdale to be exact.

“I was a fifth-grade school teacher there for 32 years,” she said the morning of May 20 at the Scottsdale Granite Reef Senior Center. “I married an army doctor who was from Pakistan in 1965. He was a military doctor, but one day he had shortness of breath, then an illness and death. I was alone. Both my parents were gone, I had no children. But I had a brother.”

Later this month will be Ms. Anand’s 20th anniversary as a Scottsdale resident, marking the time she came to Arizona to be with her brother, who is a medical laboratory technician.

“My nephew is a doctor,” she said of her family. “I am very proud of my family. We are all very well-educated. My grandfather was an army doctor in the second World War. I have five aunts and all are college graduates.”

When she first came to this country, she worked as a pre-school teacher until one day she was on her cell phone and missed a few steps, took a tumble and hurt her left knee.

“People are very, very nice here,” she said of the senior center. “And, it is good to get out. It is the walking and talking I enjoy. Teachers are very talkative, you know?”

Ms. Anand says she is a daily visitor and volunteer at the Granite Reef Senior Center, 1700 N. Granite Reef Road, due to its robust leisure offerings, the polite hospitality and it gets her out of the house.

Ms. Anand lives with her brother as she quietly and peacefully lives her life in south Scottsdale surrounded by loved ones and a second family unearthed at Granite Reef.

The Scottsdale Granite Reef Senior Center offers a robust recreational, outreach and educational services for the most vulnerable populations within city limits. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

A pending storm of the sliver tsunami?

Of Scottsdale’s estimated 250,000 population approximately 85,000 who call Scottsdale home are 55 years old or older. Scottsdale Senior Services officials explain Housing and Urban Development outreach dollars can be obtained by folks 62 years or older.

Per capita, city officials contend, Scottsdale has the most mature population of all Arizona cities and towns.

A beloved member of the Granite Reef senior community Sanyogta Anand, at right, and Granite Reef employee Lily Avalos, a recreation coordinator 1 at the city of Scottsdale during a remarkably cool May morning in south Scottsdale. (Independent Newsmdia/Arianna Grainey)

The Granite Reef Senior Center, which is one of two senior centers in Scottsdale — the other is the Via Linda Senior Center, 10440 E. Vía Linda — sees nearly 800 patrons a day.

“We know that each year, there are more Baby Boomers coming into the senior centers — the silver tsunami is how we in the industry sometimes call it,” said Scottsdale Human Services Director Greg Bestgen.

“We know folks are aging into Medicaid, Medicare and as they begin to live out their retirement years, they are beginning to really question what their housing will look like.”

A lack of affordable housing is the paramount issue facing seniors in Scottsdale and across the nation, Mr. Bestgen says.

“It can certainly be an emotional journey with the loss of a loved one — that really starts to change their picture,” he said of the unfortunate facts of life. “With the older adult population there is a lot of loss and gearing up for the transitions of life. We are finding different ways at adjusting to life’s challenges.”

Greg Bestgen, Scottsdale Human Services Director

In partnership with HUD, the Scottsdale Housing Authority serves as a pass-through for Section 8 housing vouchers offering 734 housing vouchers on an annual basis. Oftentimes, Mr. Bestgen says, these voucher programs are used to aid Scottsdale seniors.

As of press time, there are 690 leases utilizing the existing vouchers, meanwhile nearly 6,100 are a part of a waiting list, which carries those already approved for HUD dollars.

“Over the last 20 years, we know that insurance costs have certainly risen, which has been a huge cost for folks,” he explained of those who seek Scottsdale social services. “They were very good at saving for the future, but never anticipated a medication that costs $3,500 a month — it has completely changed how things look out in the marketplace.”

The cost of medications is having a trickle-down effect impacting all aspects of life for someone in retirement, Mr. Bestgen explains, noting federal guidelines do not realize the realities of local housing costs.

According to federal guidelines the fair market price for a one-bedroom apartment is $815 in Maricopa County, which housing officials say, must also include tax and utilities. Furthermore, housing officials explain, the city of Scottsdale offers a $978 housing voucher, which is 120 percent more than the federal guideline.

“A lot of folks who were living in their homes 20 and 30 years didn’t anticipate all of these rising costs of living as many of them have been forced out of their housing,” Mr. Bestgen explained pointing out the growing dilemma.

“Trying to get into more affordable housing or maybe senior living housing, we just don’t have that in the market. It involves sometimes, people leaving the community.”

In Maricopa County the median sale price for a single-family home is $268,347, which is up 8.8 percent year to date. (File photo)

Different costs of living have changed, Mr. Bestgen contends.

“It’s a pretty scary proposition to move out of that comfort zone,” he said. “The life and cost of housing has — definitely over the last 15 to 20 years — changed the kind of conversations we are having with the folks who are coming to the senior centers.”

Via Linda Senior Center Social Services Coordinator Jennifer Robinson lives and breaths the needs of the senior community. Scottsdale senior centers staffed with professional social workers is not typical, outreach officials confirm.

“They are coming to me in need of different things,” Ms. Robinson said. “Affordable housing is a big issue and I see quite a few folks who have that very issue. The rents have gone up and many of the apartment complexes are requiring two and three times the income for rent.”

Ms. Robinson explains income levels need to hover around $3,000 a month for reasonable accommodations to be achieved and for folks on fixed incomes that number is too high.

“We are talking people with $1,200 and $1,500 in monthly income,” she explains.

“I was dealing with a gentleman today and the mobile home community where he lives is closing. We are having a really hard time finding him a place to go and he may have to leave a place he lived for 25 years. I am not sure I will be able to find that for him. I am working really hard, but I don’t think I will.”

Jennifer Robinson, Via Linda Social Services coordinator

Through the Maricopa County consortium properties funding there are 116 subsidized properties within Scottsdale city limits set aside for seniors meanwhile community development block grant funding along with grants provided by the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Grants for Youth provided assistance this fiscal year including:

  • A total of 18 agencies were recommended and approved for outreach grant funding.
  • 500 human beings were assisted with grant dollars.
  • A total of $768,000 was provided to benefit those in need through Scottsdale Senior Services.

Helping those in need is what Ms. Murphy believes to be her purpose.

“I absolutely love what I do,” she said. “It is my calling. I was born to do it. When I get up in the morning I feel honored to work where I work and do the work I do. We are making a difference each and every day.”

Professionals from Home Smart Senior Care were on hand to take the blood pressure of those who attended the inaugural Independent Newsmedia Scottsdale Senior Expo. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

The dollars and cents of retirement

As more Baby Boomers transition into retirement, some are prepared more than others, which outreach officials say could create a dire demand on existing senior services.

But Shaunna Anderson, senior vice president and principal at Scottsdale-based Henry+Horne Wealth Management, says the idea of a silver tsunami may not be as ardent as once opined.

“Our Baby Boomer generation is in the final innings of retirement preparation,” she said pointing out of the demographic of those born between 1946 and 1964.

Shaunna Anderson is Henry+Horne Wealth Management senior vice president and principal. (Submitted photo)

“They make up roughly 20% of the U.S. population. In our office we are constantly helping the Baby Boomer generation plan and prepare for retirement after decades of service.”

Henry+Horne Wealth Management, 7098 E. Cochise Road, is a full-service financial services firm founded by Michael Carlin in 2005.

Ms. Anderson explains, in part due to the growing demographic, Scottsdale wealth advisement is bustling.

“In Scottsdale, 20% of the population is 65-plus, so we’ve already experienced a large portion of that initial wave, which would explain the deluge of clients we meet who are at or around retirement,” she said. “With our practice, it is quite common for us to see retirees from all over the United States who flock to the desert Southwest in search of their retirement dreams.”

Although Ms. Anderson says she is not expecting a major up-tick in market growth over the next five to 10 years, she does say the financial advisement world is the No. 1 marketplace in need of support services.

“I do not believe wealth management services are the No. 1 growth job market in the U.S. but I do believe it is the No. 1 needed service offering,” she said.

“Setting financial goals, budgets and understanding all aspects of your financial well being is something I believe is emphasized way too late in life. Today there are more tools than ever to help people save, provide them up-to-the-minute information on accounts and account balances, but it requires countless jobs to help deliver this information successfully to the world.”

Shaunna Anderson of Henry & Horne Wealth Management

But beneath the positive prospectus, numbers show attention to personal finances is something that appears to have been lost by some entering their golden years.

“The research indicates that majority of the U.S. population is not adequately prepared for retirement,” Ms. Anderson explained.

“An October 2017 Government Accountability Office analysis found the median retirement savings for Americans between age 55 and 64 was $107,000. This inevitably means many will be delaying retirement and working during their advanced years.”

An eye-opening experience

Councilwoman Suzanne Klapp is spearheading a focus on those who built Scottsdale at City Hall, 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd.

“For the past seven years or so, I have worked on an internal committee at the city, originally called ‘Aging in Place’ and now named ‘Age Friendly Scottsdale,’” she said.

Scottsdale Councilwoman Suzanne Klapp (File photo)

“I have learned a great deal about the many needs of our seniors and am their advocate. The most dire problems are the need for nutritious meals on a daily basis, the social isolation that can lead to great loneliness and sometimes earlier death, and the need to understand and address how rising rental rates and housing costs can lead to homelessness.”

But to help the at-risk senior population Scottsdale Senior Services offers a plethora of services including:

  • Two state-of-the-art senior centers — the Granite Reef and Via Linda senior centers;
  • Certified social workers offering linkage to area outreach agencies and affordable housing placement at each senior center; and
  • Myriad offerings of leisure and lifestyle classes including fitness, yoga and general recreation space.

Ms. Klapp contends Scottsdale is a great place to be — and be retired in.

“Yes, the senior population is large and growing in Scottsdale,” she said. “Our city is a very attractive place to retire. All over the U.S.A., Baby Boomers are retiring. This means they are no longer in the workforce and are drawing Social Security. This has a big effect on buying patterns and need for social programs for seniors.”

But as the senior demographic grows, so will solutions in Scottsdale, Ms. Klapp says.

“Low-income seniors need daily meal programs, housing assistance and transportation options,” she said.

“All seniors need to remain connected to their community to eliminate the feeling of social isolation through programs and services that encourage cultural enrichment and interactive activities. The senior centers, nonprofit organizations and city transit planners are providing these means of connection, assisting with meal delivery and congregant meals, and encouraging paratransit programs for disabled elderly people.”

But it takes a village, Ms. Klapp says of the reality of aging in place.

“Family members, who have become caregivers to the most elderly, need respite and support through adult care programs for their loved ones,” she said of the burden care often carries. “We do not have such a program in Scottsdale; however, we hope to build space next to our Granite Reef Senior Center for an Adult Day Care program. At this time, families are forced to look outside the city for help. Scottsdale must do better than this.”

Suzanne Klapp, Scottsdale councilwoman

If the community does not support who helped build the foundation of what Scottsdale has become, Ms. Klapp worries what will Scottsdale be for future generations?

“We owe much to the senior population in the city,” she said. “They have contributed to our economy for decades and have been the backbone of their families. They are our parents, grandparents, neighbors and friends who become more vulnerable as they age. They deserve our care and protection.”

As Ms. Anand sat quietly at the Granite Reef Senior Center the morning of May 20, she came to a stark realization about how a senior center and those inside create another kind of family.

“I am grateful for my family,” she said.

“They love me, and I am the only one left. I have been coming here for 10 years. Everything is OK. Food is very OK. There are so many things to do. And, doctors come from time to time to check our health. But time is going by very nicely.”

Independent Newsmedia Arizona Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at

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