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Berkeley's Age Friendly Initiatives

Berkeley becomes part of AARP/World Health Organization’s network of age-friendly cities.

Based on a conversation with AV External Affairs Committee Chair Steve Lustig.

By Richard Bermack 

“In order for AV to realize its mission of supporting people to age and be engaged in their communities as they choose, AV needs to partner with other organizations to address the broad issues that affect older adults and influence the direction of change in the local community.”

Steve Lustig, Ashby Village External Affairs Committee Chair


Ashby Village has 340 members. There are 13,000 people over the age of 65 in Berkeley at present and the number will double by 2030. To make Berkeley a place where elderly people can live rich and fulfilled lives, AV is working with a task force to make Berkeley an age-friendly city. As a result Berkeley was accepted into the AARP/World Health Organization network of age-friendly cities. Steve Lustig, AV’s Chair of the External Affairs Committee, explained what was involved: “The application was a year-long process with AV as the fiscal sponsor and partnering with Lifelong Medical Care, the Center for Independent Living, and the City of Berkeley.  We are now at the point of developing a 3 to 5 year plan to address the issues raised in the assessment. The City will announce this with the opening of the South Berkeley Senior Center, which just underwent a major rehab, and the opening will also launch a focus on the issues of older adults in Berkeley.”


So what is an age-friendly city. According to AARP, it is a livable city for all its inhabitants. The same issues affecting seniors, such as housing, healthcare, transportation, and the availability of healthy foods, affect all ages. In addition, elderly people need extra in-home support services.


Through conversations with older adults in Berkeley, the task force learned that

there are actually a lot of resources out there, but finding them is difficult. “We want to create a system that is more integrated and comprehensive, with a collaborative approach focused on the individual, not on the service program,” Lustig explained.

“Right now services are designed around the organizations that are delivering the services. A person-centered approach would be more of a wraparound, where no matter where you plug into the system, you get everything from support services to housing.” Lustig described four initiatives the group is working on:


Information, Referral and Connectedness Website


A lot of agencies have information referral websites most of them are out of date and hard to navigate. We’re working with the UC Berkeley Center for Technology and Aging, and community agencies to find a platform that can integrate all the different sites on line, that is easy and accessible to all generations with various computer skills.


 Gateway, Navigation and Wrap Around Services


Every adult in Berkeley older than a certain age, say 75, would be contacted with information about what services are available for them. They would get a packet and possibly a visit. The home visit would be a chance to assess for fall and safety hazards, their personal needs would be assessed, and they would be plugged into the appropriate service agencies. If more is needed, they could be connected up to a geriatric case manager in a partner agency who could then help them navigate through the system.


This is similar to the Ashby Village model. When a member joins, the social care team assesses the member’s situation and what the member needs to be engaged and independent.


Affordable Housing


It doesn’t help to make Berkeley an age-friendly city if its residents can no longer afford to live in the city. The housing task force is looking at both affordable and market rate housing options and meeting with developers both private and public. Options including subsidies for low-income housing are being considered. “Right now housing prices are so high, for many the only option is to move to Fresno,” Lustig commented.


Advocacy: Aging in All Policies


We are talking about getting municipal agencies to take aging issues into consideration when planning. For example directing the public works department to repair broken sidewalks, or the parks department to install more benches. This would be a city-wide effort, with agencies working on a common goal. Addressing these issues can make a big difference. AV would be improving the quality of life not only for its members and the aged, but the entire community as well.


How Feasible Are These Objectives?


Ashby Village is acting as an incubator. We are partnering with other people, implementing plans and spinning off projects. We have worked with agencies such as the Center for Independent Living, Lifelong Medical Care, the City of Berkeley Aging and Housing Services, Kaiser, Sutter and the Episcopal Senior Communities, to name just a few.


“How to get from here to there?  One step at a time defining annual deliverables. We’re trying to parse it out into doable pieces and will hopefully be done overall in our lifetimes,” Lustig concluded with an optimistic laugh.


Steve Lustig