Austin aims to serve rising senior population

The senior population in the Austin-Round Rock metro area is growing at one of the fastest rates in the nation.

The senior population in the Austin-Round Rock metro area is growing at one of the fastest rates in the nation.

The Austin-Round Rock metro is home to the country’s second-fastest growing population of adults age 65
and older as well as the fastest-growing population of adults between 55 and 64 years old, per the U.S. Census Bureau.

In response to this demographic change, city leaders have moved to make Austin a more age-friendly city.
Former Mayor Lee Leffingwell formed a task force on aging in 2012, which led to the creation of a Commission
on Seniors in 2016.

Austin received its “Age-Friendly City” designation last year after publishing a report and action plan detailing its commitment to senior residents through eight “domains of livability” set by the AARP and World
Health Organization.

“It’s something that’s important for all of us as a city to think about because we want this to be a city for everyone,” said Council Member Ann Kitchen, who represents District 5.

AGING IN PLACE


Experts attribute Austin’s growing senior population to a number of factors: people living longer, the aging baby boomer generation, the desire of residents to age in place and the influx of new residents who are moving here to be closer to their children.


As with every age group in Austin, housing is a significant concern.


Nora Linares-Moeller, executive director of the housing advocacy group HousingWorks Austin, said aging residents often struggle to stay in their homes as property taxes and repair costs mount, while those new to town may find it difficult to find housing that is affordable on a fixed income.


The recently approved $250 million affordable housing bond, which includes funds to help seniors pay for home repairs, will help address these issues, Linares-Moeller said.


Additionally, council has directed the city manager to develop a new process to rewrite Austin’s land-development code, which may allow for more diverse housing options, such as senior coops and backyard “granny flats.”


There are other barriers to aging in place, which is both a preference for many seniors and an antidote for the isolation that can result when a senior leaves his or her community.


Money-management support and guardianship programs are in high demand, said Joyce Hefner, director of housing and community services for Family Eldercare, a local organization that provides support services for seniors and people with disabilities.


“Just that ability to manage bills and keep track of payments and budgeting—you have to be very creative if you live on a fixed income,” Hefner said.


Additionally, low unemployment in Austin coupled with a rapidly growing senior population has led to a shortage of home care providers, she said.



PROVIDING RESOURCES


For senior Austinites and their families who may be facing these issues, accessing support is critical.


“People want to be independent and don’t want to have to ask for help,” said Patricia Bordie, director of the Area Agency on Aging of the Capital Area.


Bordie recommends that families and caregivers consult the older person whose care they are planning.


It is also important for senior residents to consider their options before a crisis occurs.


“Aging is something that, for all of us, it’s the first time we’re dealing with it,” Bordie said.


Additional reporting by Christopher Neely