Mayor Murray launches age-friendly initiatives

Today, Mayor Ed Murray announced a series of age-friendly initiatives for the City of Seattle to address environmental, economic, and social factors influencing the health and well-being of older adults. As part of the age-friendly initiatives and resolution signed today, the first quarter supplemental budget includes $200,000 of additional funding for 2017 to fund organizations that are developing innovative new programs for seniors, nonprofits that provide transportation options for seniors and to fund a technology symposium to create user-friendly online resources for seniors.

“While the Trump administration is actively working to dismantle America’s safety net, including health care and food assistance which protect many of the most vulnerable people in our community, including seniors, Seattle will remain committed to addressing the economic, physical and social challenges facing older adults,” said Mayor Murray. “From urban planning, growth and development to housing, transportation and services, these aspects of our community will be shaped for and by our older residents.”

The goal of these new initiatives is to increase social participation, racial equity and awareness of issues older adults face daily, while decreasing displacement. As the population of older adults in Seattle increases, the City is developing goals and indicators around departmental initiatives that consider aging adults. In addition to the new funding outlined above, Mayor Murray outlined several specific early action items for 2017 including:

  • Signing a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the King County Department of Assessments to increase enrollments in the City’s Utility Discount Program and the state’s Property Tax Exemption/Referral Program to help older adults to stay in their homes. The goal is to double the number of seniors enrolled in both programs;
  • Leveraging Seattle’s civic technology community to help the City better meet the needs of the aging population. This includes coordination of a technology symposium and design workshops to create user-friendly online resources for seniors based on best practices and innovative solutions from other cities;
  • In a partnership with King County Metro, increasing usage of the ORCA LIFT a reduced fare program by older adults by streamlining the application process;
  • Improving the pedestrian environment by assessing sidewalks with the involvement of seniors, implementing walkability audits, promoting transportation options for older adults, and incorporating age-friendly criteria into the Pedestrian Master Plan for 2018-2022;
  • Involving seniors in the development and engagement process for new capital investments and increasing participation in senior-focused recreation and healthy food programs offered through the City of Seattle Human Services Department, Department of Parks and Recreation, and Office of Sustainability and Environment;
  • Improving housing affordability by developing a regional housing action plan to assess senior housing needs, identifying low-income seniors to participate in the Utility Discount Program and the senior property tax exemption program; increasing access to weatherization services, home repair, and foreclosure prevention programs; and evaluating feasibility of senior home-sharing options.

“As the real estate market continues to boom we see more and more seniors facing financial difficulty,” said King County Assessor John Wilson. “I am thrilled to partner with Mayor Murray and the City of Seattle to offer relief to those who need it the most. We will work together to ensure Seattle is a place we can all afford to call home.”

In addition to early actions, Mayor Murray is committing to two community equity forums—one focused on the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender elders; the other on the needs of older women. Also, the City is looking to provide older adults with better access to human services and City resources, based on best practices, new technologies and innovative solutions from other cities.

“I’m pleased to see our City so fully embrace this Age-Friendly concept, making this a city for all ages and abilities,” said Sally Bagshaw, Seattle City Councilmember. “Personally, I want to see giant steps forward in improving our sidewalks across the city. When we maintain our sidewalks, connecting them block-to-block and implementing safe crosswalks, we make a pedestrian-friendly network. The improved pedestrian environment encourages people of all ages to walk, and as we all know, a little fresh air does us good.

“A sidewalk free of bulges and holes appeals to everyone in the neighborhood, including the mom pushing her stroller, a child riding a scooter to school, and those who may find walking a challenge. Investing in safe walking routes for all of us should be a top priority for our Age-Friendly city.”

“It is important to me and to our City that we take care of our elders,” said Catherine Lester, Director of the City’s Human Services Department. “This requires us to create opportunities for social participation, to promote health and wellness, and to make sure our physical environment is accessible. These are the types of things that allow Seattle to continue to be a place where people of all ages and stages of life can thrive. Our elders, as well as all people in our community, must feel valued and be able to participate fully as part of this community.”

The Human Services Department will also design an innovation fund to identify and award funding for unique and creative projects that meet community needs. The first year will include a focus on ways to creatively move towards an age-friendly community with a specific focus on results and racial equity.

The City will consider suggestions for age-friendly improvements in the 2018 budget and will report on the progress of the initial three-year plan to the Human Services and Public Health Committee, or other appropriate City Council committees, through 2021.

Currently, 18 percent of King County’s residents are 60 years and older. By 2040, that number is expected to grow to be one in four adults (25 percent). Currently, 63 percent of King County renters age 65 and older spend more than 30 percent of their annual income on housing. Racial disparities persist in these findings. Nearly two-thirds of older Black/African Americans (60 percent) spend 30 percent or more of their income on housing, as do more than half (56 percent) of older Latino seniors. This compares to 47 percent of White older adults.

In July 2016, Seattle joined the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities, an affiliate of the World Health Organization’s Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities and Communities. This initiative outlines “The 8 Domains of Livability” which include:

  • Outdoor Spaces and Buildings
  • Transportation
  • Housing
  • Social Participation
  • Respect and Social Inclusion
  • Civic Participation and Employment
  • Communication and Information
  • Community and Health Services

 The AARP/WHO framework looks for improvements in these specific areas that influence the health and quality of life for our city’s older residents. This initiative aims to help the region support the positive contributions of older adults and enable people of all ages and abilities to achieve their potential.

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