The pleas for a more age-friendly future are increasing throughout New Jersey, with the latest ones coming from inside the Statehouse itself.
One recently adopted Assembly resolution urges all New Jersey communities to commit to joining an expanding network of age-friendly communities that are working together to devise ways to make their towns good places for all stages of life.
Another establishes a task force to investigate why so many older New Jerseyans can’t find affordable places to live and determine if the state should play a bigger role in increasing housing options.
These two measures sailed through the Assembly on the same day in June with unanimous support. They are only resolutions, without the force of law, but their swift passage is a testament to the widening reach of New Jersey’s nearly five-year-old age-friendly movement.
“We’re gratified that state lawmakers have added their voices to the growing chorus of people who are expressing a desire for communities to better support the needs of older adults,” said Julia Stoumbos, director of aging-in-place programs for The Henry and Marilyn Taub Foundation.
The Taub Foundation, together with another foundation, The Grotta Fund for Senior Care, has created a northern New Jersey alliance of community residents, local leaders, academics and advocates who are working together to both identify and address the needs of New Jersey’s aging population.The network has support and active participation from the AARP, the New Jersey Foundation on Aging, New Jersey Future and Rutgers University.
Since 2016,the two foundations have invested more than $2 million to support research of age-friendly goals as well as the ongoing efforts of a dozen age-friendly communities in Bergen, Essex, Union and Morris Counties.
The age-friendly movement was launched by the World Health Organization in 2006, with the belief that local solutions would be needed to address the global challenges and opportunities of our aging population.
While it’s only been a few years since New Jersey’s first “age-friendly” community initiative was launched, with the founding of movements in Montclair and Princeton, there are already many other encouraging signs that the movement is growing.
Last fall, Bergen County officials announced their intention to become New Jersey’s first age-friendly county, and just this year the county funded two new programs aimed at helping older adults find more affordable housing alternatives.
This summer, 7 municipalities in northern New Jersey applied for grant-funded technical assistance from the non-profit land-use planning organization New Jersey Future to help them explore ways to become more age-friendly.
This more recent endorsement of the movement from state lawmakers comes amid projections that the over-60 population.in.New Jersey will number 2.5 million by 2030, representing a quarter of the state’s population.
Leaders of the age-friendly network are working to persuade more communities to join, while also raising awareness among elected officials, policymakers and other community leaders of the changing needs and desires of older adults – and of younger generations also seeking more livable, walkable and affordable towns and cities.
Survey after survey show that today’s older residents want to stay in communities they’ve long called home, rather than fleeing to retirement communities in warm-weather states like previous generations routinely did.
To stay put, however, those residents need help from the state, counties and municipalities in creating better housing and transportation alternatives, and they need community leaders who are committed to keeping them active and engaged even if their health and mobility decline.
Age-friendly activists are hoping state lawmakers will expand their role and influence by eventually voting to join the national AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities. Local leaders will also closely follow and hope to participate in the new Assembly Task Force on Senior Housing, which is also charged with not just investigating the barriers older adults face in trying to find affordable alternatives but also in determining whether there is a need for the state to take an active role in the construction of new housing for older adults.
To assist New Jersey in making its communities more livable for all ages, the Taub Foundation has funded research that examines the state’s housing, transportation and social infrastructure challenges and evaluates the solutions some communities are trying.
Communities in the network have conducted walkability workshops, held housing seminars and created more local transportation options. Some have organized intergenerational gatherings, resource fairs, and community forums to help make older residents more visible and heard. Most have published resource guides and created community newsletters to help vulnerable older adults find needed services.
“We have built a strong age-friendly network in northern New Jersey, one we hope will expand as we continue to develop new strategies and share new ideas on how we can help older people remain active, contributing members of their communities.” Stoumbos said “As we consider the largest generation of older people in our country’s history, making our communities more age-friendly must become a high-priority goal.”
It’s time for age-friendly pleas to become age-friendly policies.