Report: How Cities Can Meet the Needs of Growing Senior Populations

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From encouraging development of accessible and affordable housing to training older adults so they can get back into the workforce, the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging highlights ways cities are engaging with seniors.

Eight out of 10 adults over the age of 65 in the United States live in metropolitan areas, yet cities are not doing enough to support these growing older populations, according to a new report.

The report from the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging suggests ways that local governments can better serve older residents, from incorporating their needs into urban design plans to investing in industries that serve older adults.

One way to do that is for cities to integrate older adults into their local economies. Nearly half of older workers are forced out of jobs before they are ready to retire, with many unable to match the same level of salary they had in their previous jobs.

“Cities increasingly emphasize equity and inclusion in their economic growth planning, but age is rarely part of that paradigm,” the report states.

Cities can help older adults regain employment by providing job support services for older adults.

Municipalities can help older adults get back into the workforce by providing more opportunities for flexible work arrangements or strengthening workforce training programs that teach new skills, the report suggests. One example highlighted in the report is Tulsa, Oklahoma’s “Tulsa Remote” program, which seeks to lure full-time remote workers to the city with the offer of free shared office space, a subsidized furnished apartment, and $10,000 in cash to relocate and work in the city for at least a year.

The report also highlights the growing demand for senior-focused jobs, like healthcare or caretaker roles. To meet this growing need, city leaders may need to think about building the capacity of industries that serve older adults, such as home healthcare aides. Increasing the minimum wage could help attract more workers to those often low-wage jobs, the report said.

Some states, recognizing the cost and difficulties that families face when searching for aides to care for older adults, have begun to subsidize home health care costs. For instance, Hawaii’s Kapuna Caregivers Program ensures family members are able to keep their jobs while caring for parents or other older adults by providing up to $70-a-day subsidies for adult care services such as meals, transportation and adult day care, the report said.

Other needs highlighted in the report include affordable housing, mobility design, and accessibility for seniors.

Cities can help older adults gain access to affordable housing through a number of means. Those include incentivizing senior living arrangements like cohousing facilities where older adults can share common space or sponsoring home-sharing programs that could help older adults rent out rooms in their own homes. Cities can also make it easier for families to build their own “granny flats” by easing the permitting process for accessory dwelling units that can be built in the backyards of other homes.

The report notes that by 2035, nearly 17.1 million households will have a resident over the age of 65 who has a disability that impacts his or her mobility. But older homes are often not designed to meet older residents’ needs.

To address this discrepancy, the report suggests that cities can encourage development of housing that incorporates design elements that make units more accessible to seniors—things such as no-step entrances and wide hallways and doors. City leaders in Bolingbrook, Illinois and Sarasota, Florida were recognized in the report as having adopted certain universal design elements in local ordinances that would aide older adults.

To address mobility outside the home, cities can support transit-oriented development projects that reduce car dependency, or in areas with little public transit infrastructure they may choose to subsidize ride-hailing programs for seniors.  

The report notes the success that ride-hailing companies have had in subsidizing rides that allowed low-income seniors reduced cost rides to grocery stores. Programs in Washington, D.C. and Atlanta, for instance, provided residents who live in areas with few grocery stores access to fresh foods.

Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent for Route Fifty.

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