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Thursday, March 21, 2019 by Chad Swiatecki

With new hiring, city adds focus to issues of growing senior population

The city’s recent hiring of a program coordinator for issues related to the local senior population, and a community session next week on possible future budget needs for senior services, have elevated the attention paid to one of Austin’s fastest-growing populations.

Last month, Tabitha Taylor, the city’s age-friendly program coordinator, began her role that is housed within the Austin Public Health department. The hiring is part of Austin’s qualification as an international age-friendly city by the World Health Organization.

Taylor’s role will be guided in large part by the city’s Age-Friendly Action Plan, which was adopted by City Council last May. The plan identifies six areas of concentration for Austin’s aging population: outdoor spaces and buildings, transportation, housing, social participation, social inclusion and employment.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau show the Austin-Round Rock metro area has the country’s second-fastest-growing population of adults over the age of 65. The area ranked first in the growth of those aged 55 to 64.

Next Thursday, Taylor and other stakeholders in issues for seniors will hold a community forum to hear ideas about what services and issues the city needs to address, which could lead to future budget items or the reallocation of some budgets toward services and programs. The forum will begin at 10 a.m. at the Asian American Resource Center on Cameron Road.

With Taylor hired into an existing department but not having gone through a city budget process yet, she said many of the needs for seniors in the next year-plus will likely be met with the help of outside partners or by shifting some resources from other departments.

“There’s opportunities to leverage more partnerships and we’ve already heard from other groups that if there’s something you can’t get from within Austin Public Health, please reach out, we would love to help,” she said. “I would like for us to eventually have our own budget, but there’s also an opportunity to turn to partners we can rely on.”

Taylor’s hiring has drawn praise from groups like the local AARP chapter and the advocacy group Austin Up, which argue that the needs of seniors can quickly multiply into larger public health issues in the coming years.

Jessica Lemann, associate state director of outreach and advocacy for AARP of Texas, said the growing needs of the area’s senior community will get more attention with Taylor’s work with the city’s Commission on Seniors and other groups.

“We need to make it not so much of a secret,” she said. “Around the country, cities are having to look at their shifting demographics and how they’re meeting those needs. Even our older population doesn’t think of themselves as older when they get into their 50s, and so when we talk about older populations it’s always somebody else. That’s why it’s hard to get this message out even though the issues might be right around the corner.”

Lemann said Austin’s growing affordability issues can have an impact on seniors on fixed incomes, with the result of rising property taxes forcing them from their homes and moving them farther away from health care resources and other services that tend to be located in urban centers.

“With access to transit it’s not about getting to corridors downtown but getting to the doctor, and maybe that’s not just Cap Metro, but what are all of the options for someone who’s not driving a car? That’s still pretty limited in Austin, and you’re starting to see health care providers paying for Uber and ride-share services for their patients to get to the doctor. There’s still a lot more work the city can do for transit options for seniors.”

Photo by Daveynin made available through a Creative Commons license.

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