Within a matter of weeks, the D.C. Council will likely approve legislation tasking the DC Office on Aging (DCOA) with creating and implementing a decadelong strategy to assess and improve various aspects of the District senior living experience.
DCOA Executive Director Laura Newland said agency leaders hope to take the proper steps to make the agency compliant with what will eventually be known as the Ten-Year Senior Strategic Plan, part of what D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has often described as an effort to help elderly residents gracefully age in place.
“The Bowser administration wants to make sure every Washingtonian can live independently in their homes as long as they can,” Newland said days after testifying before the D.C. Council Committee on Housing & Neighborhood Revitalization about the Senior Strategic Plan Amendment Act of 2018.
If the bill passes, funding during the 2020 fiscal year would allow DCOA to assess D.C.’s senior demographics, use of agency services, housing options, transportation methods, fraud and elder abuse. During data collection, a process to inform the goals of the senior strategic plan, DCOA would consult the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), Office of the Tenant Advocate, Department of Employment Services, and the Office of Attorney General.
DCOA would also collaborate with private and nonprofit agencies, businesses, advocacy organizations, educational institutions and other stakeholders in compiling biennial updates to Ten-Year Senior Strategic Plan. The agency would have to post the strategic plan, and subsequent updates, to its website.
DCOA, an agency that carries out a system of health, education and social services for the District’s elderly, people with disabilities and their caregivers, currently collaborates with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Community in updating a federally mandated four-year senior strategic plan.
As an Age-Friendly Initiative Task Force member, DCOA also counts among a bevy of local government offices, businesses, and community leaders working to accommodate seniors’ specific needs in an increasingly diverse city.
“We have a relationship with the Department of Housing and Community Development; there’s affordable housing for seniors and grandfamilies,” Newland said. “We give supports for caregivers with groups, workshops, conferences, and other programs that work with them. There’s a lot more that we have focused on in this administration. We want to make sure seniors can stay in their housing.”
The Nov. 28 committee meeting followed a public hearing in early November about the Ten-Year Senior Strategic Plan. In a report to council colleagues last week, Anita Bonds (D-At large), chair of the Committee on Housing & Neighborhood Revitalization, spoke favorably about the legislation and recommended that the council approves it.
In February, 12 out of 13 council members, including Bonds, Brandon Todd (D-Ward 4), Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Robert White (D-At large), introduced or co-sponsored the Senior Strategic Plan Amendment. A representative of Bonds spoke on background about the bill’s prospects, saying the overwhelming reception to the idea of a senior strategic plan has compelled a push to pass it before the end of the council period.
For the more than 90,000 D.C. residents over the age of 65, the Ten-Year Senior Strategic Plan could improve some facets of their lives.
“We missed out at some events happening at the DC Armory and R.I.S.E. Demonstration Center,” said Ruby Luster, 71, a District resident in her sixth year at St. Paul Senior Living at Wayne Place Apartments in Southeast. “D.C. could do more to keep in contact with seniors. Where I’m staying, we get information about what’s going on last.
“The city should do more, so we’ll know what’s going on,” Luster said. “Most of the seniors have mobile transportation needs that they can’t get to on time to make the event. That’s why I go and pick up all the [promotional] materials I see while out.”
Buddy Moore, outreach coordinator for the Bernice Fonteneau Senior Wellness Center on Georgia Avenue in Northwest, acknowledged the D.C. government’s work in accommodating seniors, but said housing affordability is the elephant in the room.
“It’s very expensive in the city,” said Moore, 81. “The housing costs have escalated over the last five years, and we’re sort of being priced out of the city, even though there are tax advantages. Even if they own their home, the cost of maintaining that home, the property taxes, the insurance, and the repairs that need to be made become burdens that saddle many elderly residents.”