By Councilor Annissa Essaibi George, candidate for mayor
This past year and a half has been devastating for so many, and with that has come a long list of changes and priorities that the City of Boston must address. But perhaps voices too often left out of these critical policy conversations belong to Boston’s aging residents.
Here in Boston, it is projected that 20% of our population will be age 65 or older within 15 years. It’s essential that our policies reflect this and that any future planning includes measures that make our city welcoming, accessible and inclusive of our aging residents.
We must prioritize housing. Our aging residents decided to call Boston home. Many raised their families here, worked here, and have become a part of the fabric of their community. They need affordable housing options: we must build senior-specific rental units, provide them options to downsize within their own neighborhood, and lower skyrocketing property taxes that have taken many residents by surprise. Good planning will allow us to create and maintain greenspaces, open space ideal for community gatherings, and make Boston truly accessible for all with more ramps, smooth sidewalks, and benches.
Our residents need transportation options that are close to their homes and go to and from local senior and community centers, community health centers and hospitals, places of worship, and to the grocery stores and pharmacies. By expanding shuttle services and providing free MBTA passes, we can provide our older residents the resources and tools to be mobile and lead healthy, happy and enriched lives.
As part of my public health plan, I lay out the important role community health centers (CHCs) play in our city. In addition to providing primary care, CHCs provide comprehensive community services to address food insecurity, housing instability, behavioral health, immigration support, and other social determinants of health. Mental health services, in particular, will be key in the coming months after a year and a half or more in isolation with the added stressful burdens of living through a global pandemic. Our neighborhood community health centers can be a critical link between our aging residents and the services they need to lead healthy lives.
As Mayor, I will support and strengthen the lives of older individuals in Boston by ensuring that we are intentional about addressing their needs and improving their quality of life in our policies and initiatives. I’ll make bold improvements to programs that will optimize the health, safety and inclusion of aging Bostonians, and continue to invest in the generational diversity of our residents by cultivating a safe and healthy community with resources to make Boston an enjoyable place to grow older. To do all of this and ensure older residents use these services, City Hall must make a concerted effort to conduct outreach in a way that reaches, and includes, our seniors. We have to meet them where they are. From door knocking programs to phone calls, mailers to meetings at their local senior center, we have to be on the ground, listen to their needs, and allow what we learn to drive the City of Boston’s agenda.
There’s no question that Boston is such a special place because of the people who choose to call this city home, who build businesses here, who enrich our neighborhoods and contribute to our communities. So let’s make sure we’re creating more opportunities for aging residents to stay in them, such as more senior-specific affordable housing, improved and accessible infrastructure, and community-centered care. But even more importantly, let’s intentionally engage our older residents in every aspect of these policies so that all voices have the opportunity to shape our city’s future—I think we could all learn a thing or two.Annissa Essaibi-George is a Boston City Councilor and candidate for Mayor of Boston