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As Charlotte goes young, what about the seniors population?
City looks to address housing, amenities for elders
Published Thursday, April 19, 2018 4:29 pm
by Ashley Mahoney

As Charlotte’s seniors population grows through longevity or retirement, city leaders and organizations are beginning to realize more needs to be done in terms of housing and amenities. “We’ve got to make Charlotte attractive for all segments of life,” City Council member Justin Harlow says.

Charlotte needs a plan for its senior citizens.

Thirteen percent of Charlotte’s population is over age 65, with a projected increase to 21 percent by 2050, according to Southeastern Institute of Research CEO John Martin, who presented this information to city council members at their annual retreat in January. Charlotte’s rapidly growing population – roughly 40 people per day – includes an influx of people of various ages, ethnicities and backgrounds. While the city has embraced expansion, it must find its footing for all citizens, not just a certain set.

“We’ve got to make Charlotte attractive for all segments of life,” council member Justin Harlow said. “People between 25-35 flock here. They love it. It’s a great scene, good weather, a young, fresh environment, but how do we get folks to stay here, raise families here, send their kids to school here? That’s where we’ve got to do a better job doing some good work on our roads and infrastructures as people move to the suburbs to raise families, connect things and amenitize things. I call it aging in place. How do we develop community centers? How do we develop senior citizen access points for services that they need? We’re not there, but we’re slowly getting there. How do we make a full circle from birth to death, making sure that Charlotte is a city of choice for all folks, not one particular generation?”

People are living longer by an average of 32 years compared to 1900.

Charlotte native Erin Barbee advocates for the elderly. As director of mission advancement at Aldersgate, a retirement community in East Charlotte, her passion for seniors led her to apply for the Charlotte Civic Leadership Academy, cohort three, which includes 11 sessions on topics designed to educate residents on how to become community leaders. It began on March 15 with a discussion on a “Winning City,” followed by “Purposeful Leadership.”

“I went into that class thinking, ‘I am going to learn everything there is to know about the city of Charlotte, and it is going to put a fire inside of me to serve Charlotte,’” Barbee said. “It took about two classes for me to get really irritated. I told my instructor this, ‘I’m really just [upset].’”

Barbee saw a plan that did not have a place for every member of the community.

“When I look at the model of Charlotte, the model of a winning city, which is a 50-year plan for what it’s going to look like, and what they are going to invest in, everything about it is geared toward millennials, technology and housing,” she said. “I said [to my instructor], ‘where is the senior in that? Where is the 55-plus person? Where are your parents?’ No one can answer me.”

Said Harlow: “We base everything we do right now off of these ‘10 traits of winning cities.’ One of those 10 traits is being a millennial magnet. Charlotte has nothing in there about seniors. It may have one—one of the tenants is called a ‘shared story, advancing a seamless narrative, why we’re all connected.’ That may be the only way you can kind of make an argument for playing into the senior citizen space.”

Charlotte’s change is inevitable, but Harlow noted that asking more of developers is one of several steps needed to make an inclusive city.

“When we look at developments and we rezone properties, especially these changing Eastside, changing Westside neighborhoods, we’ve got to ask a little bit more of these developers,” Harlow said. “We’ve got to say, ‘what are you planning to do not only for a new market and a new generation of folks that you’re really trying to attract, but what are you doing for the folks here now? How can the people who live here now enjoy whatever it is you want to bring?’ This new council is starting to ask those types of questions.”

Harlow, District 2’s representative and one of five new faces to join council last November, campaigned on combatting gentrification, and “protecting the folks who have been there the longest,” including senior citizens.

“We’ll pass the budget sometime this summer, but we’re looking at seniors who own their homes who have fixed incomes or lower incomes, because they’re not working anymore, but they get hit with large property tax bills,” Harlow said. “How do we help them stay in their homes? We have no direct tax assistance program through the city right now. I’ve introduced what I’m calling the Aging in Place Fund. I’m trying to get the city manager [Marcus Jones] to put at least $1 million into it. I think we’re going to be able to do that.”
Parameters would focus on age, income and home ownership.

“Are you over the age of 65?” Harlow said. “Do you have an income below $40,000? If you own your home, clearly you’ve been able to stay in your home, because you’ve paid your current taxes, but if you have an increase, we will subsidize the difference until you die, or until you pass the property on and the deed changes.”

Age means downsizing for some seniors, who turn to selling their homes.

“We’re starting to get into the business of age restricted housing,” Harlow said. “We see an affordable housing, age restricted housing development down in SouthPark. We just rezoned a new one down off Sardis Road, getting closer to Matthews. There’s a proposal for one on Beatties Ford Road right now, up across from Hyde Park next to The Park Church. We’re starting to get into the space of using housing trust fund dollars not just for these affordable workforce development apartments for working families, but also now age restricted apartments for seniors — a 55 and older apartment community.”

Harlow hopes that the city’s tendency to tear down and forget its history when it comes to buildings won’t be replicated in how it treats its citizens.

“There’s so much history in this city, and we don’t do well at preserving it,” Harlow said. “We knock a lot of things down. We build a lot of things new, and that’s Charlotte for you. When you have such a good aging population that represents so much of that legacy and history, especially on the Westside, we’ve got to have some more tools in the toolbox to help them. Not just because they’re living longer, but because they’re actually assets of our community.”

Said Barbee: “Someone has to tell our city that they have to insert that into the conversation. When we’re talking about housing, we have to talk about senior housing. When we’re talking about leading on opportunity and investing in our children, who is going to volunteer, to help those kids during the day when their parents are working? It’s seniors. When we’re talking about economic mobility, who is going to mentor those children? It’s seniors, because they have time. You can’t push out your most valuable population. You’ve got to find a way to embrace them.”


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