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Posts Tagged ‘aging in place’

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Photo: Capable (Community Aging in Place — Advancing Better Living for Elders)
The Community Aging in Place — Advancing Better Living for Elders program sends a nurse, an occupational therapist, and a handyman to modify and improve the home environment of low-income seniors.

Many people I know are thinking about downsizing or signing up for an assisted-living arrangement that could be tapped when needed. It’s tricky though. Most places require a checkup to show you’re healthy when you arrive, but you may not want to use the service until you are routinely forgetting to turn off the oven or until the local building inspector is demanding expensive repairs on your property.

That is why so many new models are emerging.

Amanda Abrams writes at Shelterforce, “Three years ago, Lisa was in trouble. The Minneapolis homeowner had fallen victim to several recent misfortunes, including a divorce and diagnosis of a chronic illness. But it was the attention of a particularly punitive city housing inspections department that almost did her in. …

“Lisa was required to paint the trim around her own house, add handrails to the front steps, and fix the roof. Later, the city also pointed out that two elm trees in her yard were diseased and had to be cut down. The fines she was assessed had a steep interest rate and the total grew rapidly; within a few years, she owed $24,000; plus, she needed another $4,000 to cut down the elm trees.

“Lisa, then 65, didn’t have that kind of money, so the amount was added to her property taxes, putting her ownership of the house at risk. The home, a two-story duplex in an ethnically diverse North Side neighborhood, was paid off, but Lisa was unable to refinance it or otherwise raise the funds. …

“Lisa’s story sounds dramatic, but it’s not a particularly unusual one for low- and moderate-income seniors around the country. According to experts, the United States is about to face a giant wave of aging baby boomers who are hoping to remain in their houses as they age, but who are often one outstanding tax bill, major repair, or medical crisis away from losing their homes altogether.

“The statistics are daunting. According to LeadingAge, a national association of not-for-profit aging services organizations, in a little over 10 years, one in five Americans will be older than 65, and over half of them will need some sort of paid long-term care services. The organization recently released the results of a poll showing that at least 60 percent of seniors hope to remain at home as they age, even if they have a physical disability.

“But elderly Americans tend to have low incomes, as their life spans outstrip their savings. Roughly 20 million senior households pay over 30 percent of their incomes for housing, according to the AARP Foundation; almost 10 million pay over 50 percent. …

“ ‘For younger baby boomers, their economic situation is much worse than the older ones — they got hit in ’08 [by the financial crisis] and were unable to recover. There’s a growing number of baby boomers retiring with mortgages, so they don’t own their houses outright,’ says Robyn Stone, co-director of the LeadingAge LTSS Center @ UMass Boston. …

“Dan Soliman, director of housing impact at the AARP Foundation, agrees with Stone that a crisis is looming, but he’s more optimistic about the options for addressing it. ‘It’s a really, really big math problem.’ …

“There are definitely innovative programs out there, Soliman says. One is the Community Aging in Place — Advancing Better Living for Elders (CAPABLE) initiative run by the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing. The program sends a nurse, an occupational therapist, and a handyman to modify and improve the home environment of low-income seniors who want to age in place. Initially piloted in Baltimore, it’s a modest program that can have a real impact — and save money for Medicare and Medicaid.

“ ‘They get that if we’re able to keep an older adult in their home rather than a facility, there’s significant savings,’ says Soliman. The program is now being expanded to several states.

“AARP Foundation itself has developed a new program called Property Tax-Aide to help older homeowners gain better access to property tax refund and credit programs; currently only about 8 percent of low-income seniors benefit from these initiatives. …

“And many cities have programs that help elderly residents retrofit their houses to make them more user-friendly. Washington, D.C., for example, offers grants of up to $10,000 to low- and moderate-income homeowners and renters for home modifications that reduce the risk of falls and improve mobility.

“But those programs don’t get at some of the bigger issues, like out-of-control tax bills that can eventually lead to foreclosure, major repairs costing tens of thousands of dollars, or medical crisis that interrupt mortgage or tax payments.

“There is a small program currently being implemented in Minneapolis that addresses just about all of the key problems, and then some. It funds housing retrofits and pays off outstanding bills so that seniors can age in place, and could cover some services as well. And it keeps the homes affordable to low- and moderate-income buyers in perpetuity, so that when seniors no longer live there, the houses don’t fall into the hands of investors or negligent landlords.

“The program, called Project Sustained Legacy, was created by Minneapolis’ City of Lakes Community Land Trust. It takes advantage of the land trust model — but tweaks it slightly. Rather than buying the land underneath a house in order to lower the initial purchase price for a new buyer — the traditional CLT approach — the organization takes over the deed to the land belonging to an existing homeowner. In return, City of Lakes addresses outstanding tax liens, mortgage payments, and deferred maintenance.”

There are, of course, challenges to implementing a program like this. You can read about that and about what parts of the country are tackling a land-trust model here.

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Photo: Kristen Norman/NPR
Nearly half of the people in the Englewood neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side (where artist Matthew Hoffman created the above installation) live below the poverty line. Seniors living there had no idea there were public services that might help them.

Many older people want to stay in their homes a long time — if not forever. But when a friend commented the other day that if you stay too long, “the only person you eventually socialize with is your caregiver,” it got me thinking about the down side.

That’s why I was curious when Ina Jaffe weighed in at National Public Radio (NPR).

From her report: “Debra Thompson is throwing a block party. She has good weather for it — never a sure thing in Chicago — a warm and sunny autumn afternoon. Music is playing, hot dogs are grilling.

“But this party isn’t just for fun. Thompson is the volunteer chairwoman of Englewood Village, an organization that connects low-income older adults on the city’s South Side with services from nutrition to job assistance to home repair. And this is how she is reaching out to potential new members. …

“The Englewood Village has been around since 2015. But its roots go back 17 years and all the way to Boston, where Susan McWhinney-Morse and her friends were grappling with anxieties about aging. They wanted to stay in their homes as long as possible. They wanted to remain in their community on Beacon Hill.

“After a couple of years of effort, they produced the concept now known as the village. It’s a membership-run organization that provides access to services like transportation, help with household chores, even trouble-shooting computer problems, along with classes and social activities. …

“An independent organization has been founded to support the expansion of villages. It’s called the Village to Village Network, which has a map on its website showing where villages are located. …

“This fall, we traveled around the country to take a look at how villages are evolving. We found an effort in Chicago to create villages that serve low-income communities of color. We found a village in rural California where older adults don’t just receive services, they also provide them. Ultimately, what we found was that in practice, the village model isn’t so much a fixed formula, as an expression of older adults’ desires to age with dignity and independence. …

“At her Chicago block party, Debra Thompson cannot be ignored, with her dyed blond hair and a bright yellow T-shirt. She calls out to everyone, hoping they’ll fill out her survey so she can find out what they need. And Englewood seniors have a lot of needs. Nearly half of the people in this African-American neighborhood live below the poverty line. But many of them have no idea that there are public services that might help them. Thompson wants to change that.

“And she persists even when some people are reluctant to put their names on anything. …

“Thompson also passes out information on a lottery for free roof repairs and discounts on utilities and tells people about a service that can help frail older people remain in their homes. …

“[One] observer of the block party is Joyce Gallagher, and she likes what she sees. She is Chicago’s deputy commissioner for senior services. Gallagher loved the village concept from the first time she heard about it and wanted every older adult to have access to such a supportive community. The hang-up was the dues. The Chicagoans who could benefit the most from a village couldn’t fork over a few hundred bucks a year on top of paying for services.

“Then Gallagher had her lightbulb moment. What were the dues for? They paid for office space and computers and phones. But her department already had all of that in its 21 senior centers. …

“So Gallagher began to call meetings at senior centers around the city to see whether anyone was even interested in becoming part of this. She had no expectations about how she would be received. …

“In Englewood, Debra Thompson was interested. In fact, the Village has become her cause. ‘I devote every day to my seniors,’ she says. ‘I’m always looking for ways and partnerships and issues that can assist us to assist them in achieving what they need.’ ”

Read how the movement started in Boston, here. My husband’s friend, who lives on Beacon Hill, told us about it in 2000. Other forms of the concept are practiced around the country. For example, check out several groups in Vermont, here.

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There was a nice article in the NY Times last week about people aging in place and inadvertently creating a retirement community. My husband sent me the link.

“When the co-op conversion wave began in New York City in the 1960s,” writes Constance Rosenblum, “singles and young married couples flocked to the Upper West Side hoping to get a piece of the action. Some of those people, now in their 70s, are still there, cemented in place by apartments bought for a song or equally treasured rent-stabilized units.

“As the neighborhood’s population has grayed, some apartment houses have morphed into what social scientists call NORCs — naturally occurring retirement communities. The most recent census estimates indicate that 22 percent of Upper West Siders, or 46,000 people, are 60 or older, compared with the citywide average of 17 percent. Attracted by convenient shopping, abundant mass transit and a wealth of cultural activities, many older residents hope to remain in their apartments the rest of their lives.”

I am a huge fan of walkable communities for people of any age, and I have often wondered why retirement communities are built in the middle of nowhere. Cost of land, I suppose. But if I couldn’t walk (or wheel myself) to shops, public transportation, the library, and so on, I would be very unhappy.

Perhaps it is the generation now nearing retirement that will make so-called Smart Growth a reality at last — simply because they don’t want to be out in the middle of nowhere.

More from the Times.

Photograph: Marcus Yam for The New York Times
The walking group of Bloomingdale Aging in Place doesn’t let snow interfere with a constitutional in Central Park.

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