By Bill Eller, vice president of Business Development at HomeServe.
Americans 65 and older will make up 19 percent of the population by 2030 and approximately 10,000 baby boomers are eligible to retire daily. Many older adults would like to stay in their own homes, aging in place and in familiar surroundings. This is a welcome trend for municipalities, because it costs less for older adults to age in place and they have a lot to contribute.
There are several key areas that make a city more livable for seniors, including: reliable transportation, promoting social engagement opportunities, and providing low-cost housing and job training opportunities.
When older adults can no longer drive, they become isolated. Ninety percent of trips are taken by automobile – and this lack of freedom can lead to health and emotional problems among seniors. Public transportation makes it easier for older adults to engage socially, access services, and participate in community events.
Improving public transit does not only benefit older adults, but the entire community. Commuters want three things: frequent service, efficient ticketing; and attention to transit as a public space.
Making public transportation available every 15 minutes is the gold standard. Additionally, an efficient ticketing system that uses technology, such as smart phone ticketing apps is helpful. Municipalities should strive to make transit buildings and bus stops public spaces that combine infrastructure, architecture, programming and public art. Installing benches at stops and stations makes waiting easier for older adults. Some municipalities, such as Seattle, have also given flat, discounted rates to older adults.
One in six adults 65 or older live alone and suffer from loneliness. Providing social engagement opportunities improves mental health. Reliable transportation is the first step in encouraging social engagement.
Curating cultural and volunteer opportunities where older adults can meet others is important. When providing volunteer opportunities, consider community organization training. Opportunities also are available through AmeriCorps’ Senior Corps, which funds programs such as Foster Grandparents, Senior Companions and the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP).
Cultural opportunities can be as easy as discounts or hours reserved for older adults during events and at community facilities. Additionally, many colleges and universities offer tuition waivers or scholarships for older adults as well as tax benefits. Continuing education can touch many areas, from cultural to exercise to civic engagement.
Cities can also consider many low-cost or free ways to make government more accessible to older adults. Holding informal open houses, utilizing social media and smart phone applications and planning meetings, occasionally, at more convenient times and venues all promote engagement.
One in six baby boomers live in poverty and half of those facing retirement have less than $10,000 in savings. Only one-third have developed a retirement plan, and many underestimate how inflation will reduce their purchasing power after retirement.
As the working population ages, there is a potential labor shortage and knowledge gap, and many baby boomers are coming to the realization they won’t be able to retire. As they transition into “encore careers,” the U.S. Department of Labor’s Senior Community Employment Program allows them to gain work experience for 20 hours a week. In some cities like New York City, Workforce 1 Career Centers offer services tailored to older adults, including workshops, courses and job training to improve their employment prospects.
Two-thirds of baby boomers plan to age in place. More than 80 percent, or 32 million, own single family homes. As they age, at home needs are changing – many need retrofits so they can remain in their houses longer and safely. Home maintenance is where home safety and finances intersect for older adults. Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology studied how aging affects home maintenance, exploring issues older adults have with performing those tasks.
The most difficult home maintenance activities included cleaning, outdoor work, home upkeep and repair and indoor updating and remodeling. Home upkeep accounted for 16 percent of difficult tasks, including heating, ventilating and air conditioning maintenance. The NLC Service Line Warranty Program provides a low-cost, optional emergency home repair plan that will enable older adults to address home repairs with a licensed, insured, local contractor who has undergone drug and background checks.
These improvements allow older adults to continue to contribute to their communities, lending their wisdom and expertise, while avoiding costly assisted living facilities. Making these changes doesn’t only improve your community for older adults, but for all your residents. Improving transit, making volunteer and cultural opportunities more accessible, housing more affordable and job training more inclusive will benefit many residents, especially those who are at-risk.
Bill Eller currently serves as vice president of Business Development at HomeServe. He is responsible for working with municipalities to educate and develop the best program options for their residents.
NLC Service Line Warranty Program partners with municipalities to educate homeowners and offer affordable protection against potentially costly service line repairs. The Program uses a network of local plumbers who have gone through background and drug screenings. The Program’s 500-seat call center is staffed 24/7/365 to answer claims calls and dispatch contractors to address homeowners’ emergencies.
The Program is provided at no cost to cities, and partner cities can receive royalties based on participation. To find out how you can help your residents achieve peace of mind, visit www.utilitysp.net.