Striving to Become Age-Friendly

Not enough senior housing in Athens

Nine communities in Georgia have joined the network of Age-Friendly Communities, a program created by AARP and the World Health Organization. Athens is the latest to apply and receive the designation in mid-2019, joining 511 other communities nationwide.

Clayton Street will have better sidewalks and street furniture.

While a focused effort to develop an action plan to become more age-friendly was temporarily derailed last year due to COVID-19, various age-related data has been gathered and incorporated in the 2019 Envision Athens strategic plan. A citizen-led effort, Envision Athens grew out of the state-mandated comprehensive planning process in 2016. That organization has developed a series of 103 priority actions organized across 14 domains in categories ranging from the environment to the economy.

One key finding of Envision Athens is that there is a zero percent vacancy rate for senior housing in ACC. On top of that, the plan’s demographic research showed that the fastest growing age segment in Athens-Clarke is the over-65 population. Between 2000 and 2015, this cohort grew by 38 percent, faster than any other. The second fastest was the “Adult” or 45 to 64 population, adding 5,400 new individuals.

It’s the community’s much-touted growth as a popular retirement destination that inspired ACC commissioner Allison Wright to suggest Athens ought to pursue Age-Friendly designation several years ago.

“I learned that there is a full spectrum of grant opportunities related to the issue,” she explained, noting that it’s one of her three priorities for the budget year. “Being age-friendly can mean something as simple as making sure there are chairs for someone to sit in while they wait to pay a water bill to identifying opportunities for resting comfortably or walking safely in the redesign of the Clayton Street downtown project.”

Mayor Kelly Girtz fully supports the effort, and points to the Commission’s decision over a year ago to make ACC Transit fare-free for everyone over 65. “I feel that we’re generally age-friendly,” he says. “The work we’re doing on infrastructure development such as sidewalks, bike lanes, crosswalks, and curbs, benefits everyone of all ages.” In addition, he notes, “We’re working on three senior-focused housing opportunities right now, both owner-occupied and rental.”

He anticipates the newly established Office of Diversity and Inclusion will spearhead the next step of developing an advisory committee and beginning the creation of a plan of action to develop policies and initiatives aimed at increasing Athens age-friendliness.

“You don’t know what you don’t know,” says Girtz. “We plan to continue to learn from our peers.”


Envision Athens: Our Community. Our Future.

First year

    • Envision Athens is a citizen-led movement that emerged two years ago following an extensive, state-mandated comprehensive planning process that began in 2016. Stated goals are to break down barriers between the private and public sectors, nonprofit organizations and citizens.
    • The resulting Action Agenda includes 103 priority actions organized across 14 domains such as health, safety, education, economic development, environment, and more, with four core values undergirding the effort: unity, equity, compassion, and prosperity
    • Project manager Erin Barger notes that first year accomplishments include the designation of 20 percent of Athens-Clarke County land as greenspace; the inauguration of the Marigold Market in Winterville; and the creation of several pandemic-related responses to assist local entrepreneurs and artists.

2021 Year of the Good Neighbor

    • Envision Athens has declared this year as the Year of the Good Neighbor. In addition to Good Neighbor Awards celebrating individuals, Barger is encouraging “Good Neighbor nominations for businesses and organizations that demonstrate the qualities of a Good Neighbor by exhibiting our four core values of unity, equity, prosperity, and compassion.”
    • Go to envisionathens.com to read the 2020 Work Plan, engage with the Engagement Guide, and nominate a Good Neighbor business.

Georgia peers

Macon-Bibb was the first city to join the network in 2012, and the first to develop an action plan and to issue a five-year progress report. Atlanta and Augusta were next to join in 2014, followed by Norcross and Tucker in 2018, East Point in 2019, and Jones County in 2020.

One key aspect of the Age-Friendly initiative is for a community to evaluate itself using the AARP Livability Index. The Index uses a 0-100 scoring system to measure seven broad categories: housing, neighborhood, transportation, environment, health, engagement, and opportunity. At the heart of the Livability Index are 40 metrics, which measure how livable communities are in the present, and 20 policies, which measure how they might become more livable over time.

For instance, Augusta’s overall score was 51, with low scores of 36 in neighborhood, 41 in health and 45 in transportation while housing measured 62 and the environment 63. Those areas with below average metrics and no policies were targeted for interventions, according to Augusta’s Age-Friendly Action Plan.

The city of Tucker, one of several newly incorporated cities in the metro Atlanta area, recently received approval for its Action Plan, which was developed in conjunction with the city’s comprehensive plan. The Tucker Civic Association (TCA) took the lead in the two-year effort.

“We looked at what was good in Tucker, what wasn’t so good, and what we didn’t have to bother with,” explains Lois Ricci, a TCA district representative who is a retired geriatric nurse practitioner, adjunct professor at Kennesaw State, and AARP volunteer. “A lot of it is dreaming.” Next steps include a strategic plan and a five-year plan.

“We have had to persuade people that age-friendly means a life-long community,” she notes. “That’s been our biggest education effort and we’re having some success. People are recognizing this can benefit them at various stages of their lives. Sidewalks are as necessary for strollers as walkers.”


Fast Facts

  • Between 2005 and 2015, there were 19 apartment developments with 2,255 new units built in Athens, 67 percent of those units are considered student apartments.
  • Only 11 percent of those units are considered workforce housing. Along with this, the zero percent vacancy rate for seniors housing in the community indicates an unmet demand.
  • 64 percent of households makes less than $50,000 per year, with a median income of $32,162. Affordable rent would be $804 and an affordable home price would $130k to $150,000.
  • The National Median Age is 38.2 years old.
  • By 2030, one of every five people in the U.S. will be 65 or older.
  • The number of older adults will soon outnumber children; by 2035, adults older than 65 will be greater than the number of children under 18.

Sources: Envision Athens and the U.S. Census Bureau


 

Got ideas for making Athens more Age-Friendly? Send them to us and we’ll be sure ACC gets them. Email: Betsy@boomathens.com

 

Betsy Bean
Betsy Bean
Betsy Bean completed graduate school at UGA in 1972. She was a school librarian for a year and then became a rock and roll DJ for the next 10. Subsequently, she worked as a reporter for the Atlanta Journal/Constitution, followed by public relations and marketing and newsletter publishing and was, more recently, the downtown development director for the City of Anniston, Ala.

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