Optimizing the quality of life for Newton’s seniors

I have elderly parents who are facing many challenges as they age. I know how important it is to listen to them and to understand their needs as they navigate their way through new issues in their life. I want our seniors to feel safe and secure and to help them sustain and maintain the quality of life they have come to enjoy as Newton residents.

I will be a champion for seniors and for making Newton a more livable, all-age friendly city as Mayor. While I am a champion for our children and our schools, I am equally committed to increasing our efforts to improve the quality of life for older adults through:

  • Improving affordability to meet the needs of seniors with lower incomes
  • Better housing and transportation options
  • Modernizing Newton’s Senior Center
  • More supportive services and programs
  • Significant infrastructure improvements
  • Building a coalition among organizations that impact seniors – from pharmacies and hospitals to non-profits and service providers
  • More opportunities for engagement
  • Reinforcing a culture of respect and inclusiveness
  • Making the government of the City of Newton more all age-friendly

We have a dedicated Department of Senior Services and a Council on Aging that have responded admirably to seniors’ needs and wishes for almost three decades. Let’s enhance those efforts to build a more livable, all-age friendly Newton.

A more livable, all-age friendly Newton

A more livable, all-age friendly Newton includes:

A. Overcoming Issues of Affordability: The high cost of living — property taxes, home maintenance and health care — are making it harder for seniors on fixed incomes to live in Newton.

  • Support those with limited or inadequate resources with financial assistance to help them afford to stay here.
  • Educate seniors about the current availability of programs for reducing taxes and utilities, including the deferral of real estate taxes.
  • Review current programs for reducing taxes to see how they can be expanded.
    • Explore ways to change the property tax system to help seniors with low or fixed incomes.

B. Improving Senior Housing Options to help with rising cost of living: Encourage housing that is affordable and is designed to support people as they age; make sure that our older population has options when they want to downsize and remain here in the city that they love and where they have deep roots.

  • Help seniors stay safely in their homes if that is their preference.
  • Encourage the development of both low income and moderately priced housing.
  • Work actively for the addition of mixed-use, multi-story buildings with elevators in our village centers with mass transit. Insist on thoughtful architecture so the buildings are appropriately scaled and designed for each individual village’s context.
  • Include in new housing developments living units in a range of prices, sizes, and layouts for people of various means, fostering a diversity of housing options.
  • Make village centers more livable and vibrant. Encourage retail, office and senior appropriate housing so we have lively, human-scaled and walkable village centers with a broad range of small businesses.

C. Enhancing Mobility for all ages, including seniors:

  • Make transportation more affordable, available and accessible for seniors through vouchers and a wider range of locations to serve a wider range of people; explore the expanded use of shuttles.
  • Make streets crossable and sidewalks walkable so they are safe and in good condition (well-marked with shorter crosswalks when possible, excellent lighting, pavement in good condition and clear of snow, and clear way-finding).
  • Provide parking for both shopping and residential areas and continue the parking stickers for seniors.

D. Maintaining Top-Notch Public Safety: Make sure Newton continues to be safe both in the sense of public safety – police, fire, emergency responders — and safety for pedestrians and drivers with better maintained sidewalks and roads, clear of snow and well lit.

A larger and Modern Senior Center

  • A facility that is too small and doesn’t meet the needs of Newton’s seniors: Expanded service demands due to the growth of the older population are exceeding the availability of programming space and parking for the Senior Center and the Department of Senior Services. We should actively plan for a modern Senior Center that can meet our expanded needs. We do this for our schools and our library. Let’s do it for our Senior Center.
  • Act promptly. I am committed to getting the first step, the feasibility study, underway in my first year in office. Let’s create a plan. What programs should we deliver in the coming 25 years? Which services? How much staff and what kind? What are the space requirements? Should we have one or multiple locations? If one location, does it need to be centrally located? Should the center be primarily for seniors or an intergenerational space? Should it be in a village center? What is the minimum amount of parking needed? What kinds of transportation services are needed with how much funding? What will be the operating cost of the staff and the facility (or facilities)? What are the funding sources?
  • Invest more now in our current Senior Center to make it work better while we plan for a renovated or new facility (or facilities). Make sure there are sufficient funds for routine cleaning and periodic deep cleaning. Update the furnishings. Provide the budget for routine maintenance.

Expanding services by adding staff

Expand our ability to fulfill our mission of optimizing the quality of life for older adults in Newton and those who support them by an additional investment in our Senior Citizen staffing. This means additional funding for senior services with federal, state, city and private contributions for:

A. Expanding services: Expanded service demands due to the growth of the older population are exceeding the capacity of the staff of the Senior Center and the Department of Senior Services. We need to increase the staff.

  • Actively plan with an eye toward expansion of services and invest now in both the appropriate type and level of staffing.
  • Recognize the diversity in Newton’s older population, continuing to expand our reach and aggressively improving awareness of our current resources.
  • Expand our ability to identify, reach out, and serve residents in need and in isolation.
  • Recognize that the expanded services may be not only at the Senior Center, but might include services and programs offered by Parks and Recreation, the Library, Newton Community Education and Cultural Affairs.

B. Meeting Healthcare and Community Support Needs:

  • Continue to provide information and access to an expanded range of services in a range of locations (home, outpatient, hospital, rehabilitation).
  • Make sure we have the appropriate number of case managers and/or social workers in the appropriate locations.
  • Expand programs and referrals for caregivers including emotional, informational and physical support or respite care.
  • Evaluate providing a supportive day care program.
  • Use the Mayoral office to advocate for Medicare.

C. Expanding Social/Civic Participation & Employment Opportunities: Continue to provide and expand the number of accessible and affordable events and activities, purposeful volunteer and employment options, and intergenerational activities.

D. Expanding Education, Arts & Culture and Health & Fitness Opportunities: Continue to provide and encourage access to expanded opportunities for:

  • Education – access to lectures, classes and explorations, as well as opportunities for older adults to serve as community resources.
  • Arts and culture – learning and skill building, expression and socialization.
  • Health, wellness and fitness programs at more locations and time of day.

E. Improving Communication & Information: Continue to make sure information disseminated to our seniors is regular, reliable, coordinated and universal.

F. Expanding Public-Private-Non Profit Partnerships:

  • Encourage the work of and collaborate with partners and community organizations to supplement and expand the efforts of the city.
  • Have a permanent working coalition of private and non-profit organizations.

 

An all age-friendly City of Newton government

A. Develop plans and policies with seniors who are part of the leadership and decision making team so the input is substantive and impactful.

B. Train all City Hall personnel on how best to serve seniors and make the well-being of older residents a priority for all municipal departments.

  • Provide a broad range of meaningful work programs to more people who want to be involved in the senior property tax work-off program.
  • Expand awareness of the older citizen tax exemption and tax deferral programs through the Assessor’s Office, Customer Service, the Senior Center and other City departments that engage with seniors. Review current programs for reducing taxes to see how they can be expanded.

*****

In closing, the Mayor is also called a Chief Executive. With that in mind, it is a job best filled by a woman or man who is prepared and trained to be an executive at the highest level. I am that candidate. I am well-trained and well-prepared with a Harvard MBA, decades of management consulting experience, and years as a leader on the Newton City Council. I have meaningful public, non-profit and private sector experience. I will use that training and experience every day to foster the quality of life of older adults, especially those living in or near financial poverty and isolation.

Note: I have used documents created by and for the City of Newton, sometimes word-for-word, when writing this position paper.