Age-Friendly Austin, Texas, and Equity
A look at how the city is working to ensure fair access and opportunities for its older adults
One of the nation’s fastest growing cities, Austin, Texas, is home to nearly 1 million people, 9 percent of whom are age 65 or older. According to the city’s comprehensive plan, "the largest rate of growth since 2000 has been in those age groups of 55 and older. In the past decade, Austin saw an 84 percent increase in residents ages 55 to 59, a 97 percent increase in residents age 60 to 64 and a 52 percent increase in residents age 65 to 69.”
The city of Austin has been a member of the AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities since 2012.
Four years later, the Austin City Council voted to adopt the Age-Friendly Austin Action Plan as an addendum to the city’s comprehensive plan. In 2019, Austin hired its first age-friendly program coordinator to guide the plan’s implementation.
- Tabitha Taylor, Age-Friendly Program Coordinator, Austin Public Health
And members of the Austin Commission on Seniors:
- Patty Bordie, Director, Area Agency on Aging, Capital Area Council of Governments
- Jacqueline L. Angel, Ph.D., Professor, LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas-Austin
- Erica Garcia-Pittman, M.D., Geriatric Psychiatrist, Ascension Texas at Seton Mind Institute and Associate Professor, Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Dell Medical School, The University of Texas at Austin
- Multicultural programs for older adults
Taylor, Bordie, Angel and Garcia-Pittman describe the city’s efforts to equitably serve seniors.
Mobilizing Partners to Serve Seniors in Need
“Our Age-Friendly Austin Action Plan is organized under the 8 Domains of Livability," Taylor explains. "We use the domains as an equity framework, making sure we're meeting the needs of our seniors, particularly those who are the most vulnerable. Aging programs are housed in multiple city departments and my job is to coordinate with them and our community partners to turn the plan into reality."
To build inclusion, the Austin Parks and Recreation Department offers a range of programs for people age 50 or older and delivers them in multiple languages: English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Arabic and Burmese. The city partners with culturally specific hubs including the Asian American Resource Center, where participants share meals and games from their culture and build deeper connections by sharing personal stories about their backgrounds. The city provides free, accessible transportation options so older residents can participate.
"Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve focused on intergenerational efforts to address the digital divide to help people feel less isolated," Taylor explains, noting the Austin Social Inclusion Task Force. "Since we can’t meet at computer labs, we're piloting a program to loan technology devices to low-income seniors with partner-provided WiFi access and conduct digital literacy training in telephone and online formats."
Age-Friendly Austin also hosts PPE (personal protective equipment) distribution events at the city’s Conley-Guerrero Senior Activity Center, which serves many African American and Latino seniors. The kits include masks, hand sanitizer and information about flu shots and COVID-19 testing.
Policy and Program Change to Address Equity
Taylor works closely with members of the Austin Commission on Seniors, which evaluates and recommends programs, policies and practices to help older adults be productive, independent and healthy. Commissioners Bordie, Angel and Garcia-Pittman participate in the action plan work groups.
The Austin City Council directs "... the City Manager to ... assess the need for an adult day center with other integrated community components on City-owned facilities, such as at the RBJ Public Health Center.... determine the feasibility of developing City-owned facilities for such purposes ... recommend a process for developing an adult day center at the City-owned RBJ Public Health Center, or other potential City-owned facilities, should the City Council decide to provide that direction in the future ..."
“To make Austin the age-friendliest city, all eight domains must move collaboratively to address health equity and spatial justice," says Angel. "We are looking at ways to bring generations together by designing projects that expand low-income senior housing with intergenerational day programming. We'll need new partnerships to make the projects come to life. We want to promote social engagement across racial groups, ages and gender because we know social isolation doesn’t just affect seniors.”
About the policy focus the working groups bring to the table, Bordie explains, “We look at whatever plans, resolutions or programs are coming from the city to make sure the needs of older adults are represented. We've been drilling down to get data for the neighborhoods in most need.”
Garcia-Pittman adds: “We focus on policies and programs that will work for the most vulnerable populations. If they are taken care of, everyone will be successful."
She continues: "We partner with other commissions, like the African American Resource Advisory Commission, the Hispanic/Latino Quality of Life Advisory Commission and Asian American Quality of Life Advisory Commission. Their perspectives have been part of our work from the beginning. We've also engaged with the LGBTQ+ community through the Joint Inclusion Commission so we can better address issues of aging with HIV, or moving into new communities. Ultimately a lot of folks are vulnerable, and intersectionality is real. It helps when we coordinate with others to support our shared aims.”
Reducing Rigidity, Advancing Equity
“The action plan gives us a framework to come up with ideas and implement them," Bordie notes. "We were able to advocate for a community health worker position to focus on zip codes where people have the greatest needs. We can do this because the city is creating more flexibility in its funding programs. New organizations are eligible, and applications are easier. This has made a real difference for advancing equity.”
Adds Garcia-Pittman: “I’m proud of how much direct feedback we’ve gotten from diverse residents throughout the city. We’ve had interpreters, we've hosted events in different parts of the city and we've translated our surveys so we could hear what older residents want and need.”
Angel says the city is ensuring that partnerships are supporting seniors with the greatest needs. "In 2018, the City Council passed Resolution 41 [see box] and is engaged in looking at ways to link affordable, city-owned senior housing with supports.”
Taylor reports that since 2018, when the city approved funding to hire for her age-friendly program coordinator position, "it has launched so many new partnerships. It speaks to the collaborative effort we're taking to ensure that we are equitably serving Austin’s seniors.”
- Austin, Texas, Age-Friendly Action Plan
- Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan
- Young Hip Austin is Getting Old: A New Experiment in Confronting the Challenge
- Learn about the AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities
- Check out the network's Member List
- Connect with AARP Texas
- Read "Age-Friendly Responses to COVID-19"
Visit "Age-Friendly Network Communities and Equity" to read about another community. »
Reported by Mary Kay Bailey | Fall 2020 | Population data from the U.S. Census
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