Affordable Housing, Active Living Top Agenda at White House Forum

Retirement is no longer looked at as the last chapter of one’s life, but rather a new and exciting beginning for the next phase of life,” said Julian Castro, U.S. secretary of Housing and Urban Development, at a White House Conference on Aging regional forum in Cleveland on April 27.

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“Older Americans want to be active. They want to contribute and build lives of fulfillment and of their own choosing,” Castro told attendees. In light of that, he called for a 21st century vision of planning that’s age-friendly, bolstered by three pillars: providing affordable housing, connecting housing to community assets that people need to thrive and creating partnerships that will spark progress. He applauded tools like AARP’s new Livability Index, which scores neighborhoods and communities across the country for services and amenities that most affect daily living.

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Castro was the keynote speaker at the fourth of five invitation-only regional forums designed to engage older Americans, their families, caregivers, advocates, community leaders and experts on key issues affecting seniors. Their ideas and opinions will help set the agenda for the White House conference in Washington this year.

The 2015 conference will focus on four areas: ensuring retirement security, promoting healthy aging, providing long-term services and supports, and protecting older Americans from financial exploitation, abuse and neglect. Experts in those areas addressed the forum during panel discussions.

Michelle Norris, president of the National Church Residences Development Corp., said that people and organizations are now aware of the importance of affordable housing for older adults. “I feel like affordable housing has reached puberty and just got invited to the dance,” she said. Yet, she noted, the only program that produces new housing for low-income seniors is no longer funded by Congress.

Bonnie Kantor-Burman, director of the Ohio Department of Aging, offered that there should be a shift on the way older adults are viewed. “The focus is not on being a ‘senior’ but an ‘elder,’” a person who still thrives and can give back to the community.

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“Elder justice is a priority issue,” said Ursel McElroy Drake, deputy director of education and policy with the Ohio attorney general’s Crime Victim section. She emphasized engaging older adults in conversations about financial and health affairs so that they can be aware of scams and the potential for being abused by relatives, friends and others.

The regional forums are being cosponsored with AARP and planned with the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations (LCAO), a coalition of more than 70 of the nation’s leading organizations serving older Americans.

AARP will live-stream the final regional forum, set for Boston on May 28.

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