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Greg Olsen Testifies Before the Assembly's Aging Committee

On Dec. 4, 2013, New York State Office for the Aging Acting Director Greg Olsen testified before the New York State Assembly's Standing Committee on Aging. The transcript of his testimony is below.

Greg Olsen, Acting Director New York State Office for the Aging, Testifies Before New York State Assembly

Good morning Chairperson Millman. My name is Greg Olsen and I am the Acting Director of the NYS Office for the Aging. I appreciate the opportunity to be here today to provide testimony regarding the changing needs of communities and developing neighborhoods that are friendlier to older adults and their families.

My testimony will:

  1. Describe how older adults are a valuable resource to the communities in which they live,
  2. Explain the efforts underway at the county, state and national levels to develop age-friendly/livable communities that include older adults, and
  3. Illustrate how community leaders such as yourself and others can learn from these efforts and apply them to your own communities.

Older Adults Are a Valuable Resource

NYSOFA recognizes the value of older adults to their localities and to the state. New York has the third largest number of older adults in the United States – currently over 3.7 million people are age 60 and older, and the aging of the Baby Boomers is swelling the ranks of the State's older population. The oldest Boomers turned 65 in 2011, and the youngest Boomers will turn 60 in 2024. According to the US Census, the mature market (age 60+) will grow more than 11 times faster in the next two decades than the remaining adult market.

Older adults generally consider themselves to be healthy and their intellectual, social and economic value must be recognized, harnessed and put to use. It is our goal and intent to help New York communities recognize this value and understand the impact older adults have on the state.

Older consumers have more than $1.6 trillion in spending power and a net worth that's nearly twice the U.S. average. They account for more than 40% of ALL consumer spending, spending more than $1 trillion on goods and services each year. Older adults purchase 41% of all new cars, spend more per capita on groceries, over-the-counter products, travel and leisure than any other group. They spend $7 billion on-line annually and are the most brand loyal age group. Social Security payments also brings almost $50 billion into New York's economy.

Focusing specifically on New York State, 58% of all the personal income generated, about $310 billion annually, is generated from older adults and baby boomers. Older adults constitute an economic powerhouse, supporting the local tax base, schools and small businesses. The majority of older adults own their homes and most own them outright with no mortgage, again supporting the school districts, property taxes and business.

The contributions of New York's older adult population extend far beyond their financial contributions. There are almost 700,000 older adults volunteering 49 million hours in New York communities per year at an economic value of $1.3 billion annually. The diversity of this volunteerism can be seen in direct service provision such as delivering meals and providing transportation to those who are frail to mentoring children in schools. NYSOFA promotes harnessing the volunteer power of older adults to help provide services while keeping older adults active and engaged. This has been a proven public health strategy that has an overall positive impact on physical and mental health, reduces social isolation and depression, and strengthens their connection to the community, reducing the likelihood that they would move from their community.

National, State and Local Efforts to Develop Age-Friendly/Livable Communities

As the population gets older, it is important to think about, plan and develop strategies that support the direction of health and long term care policy, the desire and demands of individuals, and create new opportunities to strengthen communities and the interconnectedness of the residents of these communities regardless of age. Strengthening communities through design features and sustainable planning will benefit individuals of all ages.

Specifically, for older New York residents, we want to continue to keep their social, intellectual and economic capital in our state and value their contributions locally. An older adult who leaves the state takes their pension, savings, home equity, Social Security and other assets with them. Developing communities that are friendly to people of all ages will not only help to retain these individuals and baby boomers, but can be attractive to older adults outside the state to consider retiring here in New York. Accordingly, creating communities that attract older adults already living in New York while encouraging older adults to move to the state, increases New York's economic viability, increases the potential pool of volunteers, and expands the state's expertise and experience base.

Through community design and proactive, sustainable planning, we can develop strategies that will retain these individuals in our state. There is a growing movement across the country towards "strengthening community" for all individuals, which necessarily include older adults. This movement has developed through coalition-building and partnerships that bring together diverse interests, many of whom you may not be used to doing business. This collaboration is essential as at both federal and state government levels, and in the foundation world, funding sources require forming non-traditional partnerships.

New York State is already taking steps to address this issue. A primary example is the Governor's Livable New York initiative. Livable New York began as a partnership with the Department of State, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, USDA Rural Development- State Office, the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York, the Office of Persons with Developmental Disabilities, the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal, and the New York State Commission on Quality of Care and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities. It is designed to help municipalities better plan for the housing and community needs of the state's older population, as well as younger people with disabilities, families, and caregivers.

To date, the Livable NY effort has yielded an advisory workgroup report which identified and provided recommendations to overcome barriers and challenges to creating livable communities that more closely reflect the changing needs and preferences of the state's older population, as well as younger people with disabilities, families, and caregivers. This effort also has yielded a comprehensive resource manual of replicable models in the areas of zoning, planning, development, housing, design, energy efficiency alternatives, mobility and transportation as well as providing community tools such as engaging community stakeholders, planning and development tool kits, etc. Through Livable NY, municipalities can access information, technical assistance, and examples of successful models and practices related to: housing, universal design, planning, land use, zoning, energy alternatives and efficiency, green-building, mobility, and transportation that benefit all individuals, including older adults. The initiative is designed to include:

The initiative also includes a "Livable NY academy," which consists of a

  1. A community training day to understand the demographics, trends and change drivers of a given community (including older adults).
  2. A community evaluation that seeks the input of its residents on what is important to them (this is currently in development), and
  3. Implementation ideas from the resource manual of some projects and activities in response to the findings from the evaluation.

Ultimately, the Livable New York initiative will help our community leaders, community organizations, and residents take proactive steps to plan and develop communities that reflect the needs and preferences of who actually lives there. The initiative will also take advantage of the innovation and good ideas that are available to create and build those kinds of communities. For older adults, this may mean access to more affordable housing, new transportation models, new programs and services developed that target people earlier so they can maintain their independence and so on.

Indeed, communities across New York are already proactively developing livable community plans, and prioritizing activities and implementing interventions to address the needs of all residents, including older adults. New York City's "Age Friendly City" is a worldwide model for a large urban area communities in Broome County, Westchester, North Hempstead and the City of Rochester have developed plans appropriate for suburban areas and are making steady progress.

We also have the benefit of efforts that are occurring at the national level. The AARP and the World Health Organization have joined together with communities across the United States to encourage and promote age-friendly planning and policies. These organizations recognize the importance of creating "age-friendly communities" that are inclusive, accessible and encourage active and healthy aging. AARP's Network of Age-Friendly Communities focus on improving the elements of communities that enhance independent living with a goal of having older citizens take a more active role in their communities.

Community Leaders Role

The purpose of Livable NY and many of the other efforts that are occurring around the country is to build a local, grassroots, inclusive planning approach and work to make it sustainable so that local issues can be prioritized and solved locally, with assistance as needed by state government and other private sector partnerships.

I believe that public officials can play a pivotal role in these efforts by using their positions to bring the appropriate mix of diverse community partners together for a common goal. Once these partners come together, they can plan stronger communities, leverage resources, and develop public-private partnerships that will improve the lives of aging residents. New York legislators, mayors, county executives, community colleges and others are already taking the lead in their communities to organize a diverse mix of interests to plan for a growing population and to make their communities more age friendly and more livable for people of all ages.

NYSOFA has, and will continue to work with communities and organizations such as AARP, NYSAC, academic institutions and others to facilitate this planning process and provide access to the Livable NY Academy. NYSOFA is working to bring the Academy process to communities that are truly interested and committed. We are in the process of developing an RFP as well as a community assessment tool that will measure the community's perception of its livability and what types of things they would want to see.

I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.