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Creating an Age-Friendly D.C. Action Plan

Here's how Washington, D.C., intends to work on behalf of people 50-plus

Row houses, Washington, D.C., Liveable Communities, Age-friendly action plan

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Colorful townhouses in the Bloomingdale neighborhood of Washington, D.C. The Age-Friendly D.C. initiative ensures that District residents age 50-plus are active, healthy and engaged in their community.

The Age-Friendly D.C. initiative ensures that District residents age 50-plus are active, healthy and engaged in their community. In October 2012, Washington, D.C., joined the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities and pledged to make the city user-friendly for all residents by considering how eight community domains identified by the World Health Organization (WHO) affect quality of life. 

To these domains, D.C. added two more that address specific needs of the District's older population:

  • Emergency Preparedness and Resilience: Information, education and training to ensure the safety, wellness and readiness of seniors in emergency situations

  • Elder Abuse, Neglect and Fraud: Prevention and prosecution of financial exploitation, neglect and physical, sexual and emotional abuse of seniors

Drawing on input from District residents collected in a series of interviews, meetings, surveys, neighborhood walk throughs and other assessments, the 23-member Age-Friendly D.C. Task Force — which includes community leaders, D.C. government agencies and representatives from nonprofit organizations, businesses and AARP District of Columbia — developed a plan with goals and strategies focused on the 10 domains.

The Age-Friendly DC Strategic Plan: 2014 -2017 identifies 77 strategies across all domains and notes more than 70 partner agencies and organizations that will be involved in the plan’s implementation. (The executive summary and full report can be downloaded at right.)

One of 15 international cities selected by the WHO's Center for Health Development, D.C. will participate in an international age-friendly city study, an opportunity that will help advance the plan's goals. When D.C. joined the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities program in 2012, the city's administration thereby pledged to make the District more accessible for its older residents. AARP's initiative aligns with an international effort led by WHO, which defines measures in eight domains to promote active aging in urban environments.

The nation's capital is unique and its population diverse. Older adults make up more than 11 percent of its residents, and that number is only expected to grow as D.C.'s boomers age. Many older adults do not live near Metro stations, the report notes, and seniors in the District are the least likely group to own a car. Compared to the states, D.C. has the highest number of older adults living in multifamily homes. An older adult with a disability lives in more than a third of all age 50-plus households in the city.

Many residents desire to age in place, and the District must plan accordingly. Indeed, the number of adults 50-plus who live alone is higher than any state in the U.S. — 30 percent of females (33,000 women) and 20 percent of males (23,000 men). While the report's authors note that D.C. has made positive strides, much work remains to be done to meet the needs of all residents.

The report summarizes best practices, provides an assessment of D.C.'s current efforts and offers recommendations for the following three transportation areas: the pedestrian environment, public transit and alternative transportation services.

Key Points: District Residents

  • More than 11 percent of the District’s residents are over age 65, more than half of these residents are women and over a third have a disability

  • Of residents in D.C. age 65 or older who live in a house, condo, co-op, or apartment 61 percent own their home and 39 percent are renters

  • In 2013, the average single senior renter spent 53 percent of his or her monthly expenses on housing costs

  • The District ranks first in the nation in retirement income as a percentage of pre-retirement income at 74 percent

  • Fourteen percent of D.C. residents age 65 and older live in poverty, which is higher than the national average of 9 percent for the same age group

Key Points: Plan Recommendations

A sampling of the plan’s key strategies for becoming an age-friendly city:

  • Increase the number of parks and public spaces that have functional seating, drinking fountains and restrooms

  • Create an integrated, one-call/one-click system for older adults and those with disabilities to access and schedule transportation options

  • Improve awareness of and access to home modification programs before residents need them and streamline the application process for residents in urgent need

  • Develop and widely distribute a user-friendly inventory of housing choices that welcome residents age 50-plus who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, have disabilities or who are English language learners

  • Coordinate with nongovernment partners to organize creative evening events, sports outings and competitions for older residents

  • Work with the business community to adopt age-friendly business best practices and provide a welcoming and inclusive environment for older customers

  • Provide training on preparedness practices to shelter-in-place or relocate to accessible shelters when necessary

  • Create a "Home Health Worker Registry" that lists the names of workers who have been terminated for reasons pertaining to elder abuse and/or fraud

How to Use

The strategic plan outlines actions that individuals, D.C. government agencies and nonprofit organizations can take to support the District's goal of becoming an age-friendly city (page 42 of the full report). Acknowledging the role that local businesses play in building an age-friendly community, the plan provides an age-friendly business best practices checklist (page 44 of the full report).

Report published December 2014. Summary by Jessica Ludwig

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