Models Of Senior Housing Development
As part of Brookline's Age-Friendly Cities initiative*, the Board of Selectmen, Housing Advisory Board, Economic Development Advisory Board, Council on Aging, Health Department and Brookline Community Aging Network (BrooklineCAN) convened a panel of experts who are familiar with Brookline to discuss a variety of models of senior housing.
On Sunday April 7, 2013 the panelists considered models of housing and services for older people whose needs and financial resources differ widely, in hopes of stimulating discussion, interest and, ultimately, action. This forum attracted both to policy makers and those considering their own futures in Brookline.
*Brookline is a member of this global network, established by the World Health Organization to foster the exchange of experience and mutual learning among communities worldwide
Bicycles on Sidewalks
Because of our concerns for pedestrian safety, we are examining the regulation bicycle riding on sidewalks in Brookline. In taking up this issue, we are responding particularly to concerns of Beacon Street residents. Beacon Street is used extensively by bicycle commuters. Some cyclists have taken to the sidewalks because they consider the street to be unsafe. Sidewalks are not wide enough for both cyclists and pedestrians.
State law prohibits riding of bicycles on sidewalks in commercial areas. Unfortunately, the boundaries of commercial areas in Brookline are ambiguous as they apply to riding of bicycles on sidewalks. For that reason, it is not clear where state law prohibits riding of bicycles on Beacon Street. To the extent that they are involved with enforcement of traffic regulations involving cyclists, Brookline police discourage riding of bicycles by adults on sidewalks throughout the Town. However, the legal basis for police policy is uncertain. Cyclists have reason to be uncertain about Town policies concerning bicycles on sidewalks. The Town wants to promote safety for both cyclists and pedestrians but has not carefully examined how they should share the sidewalks.
As a result of our inquiries, the Town's legal department has asked the Transportation Board to develop new regulations concerning operation of bicycles on sidewalks. The Board has agreed to take up the issue. We are working with the Board to formulate an effective remedy.
Monitoring sidewalks in commercial areas after winter storms
Reflecting our concerns about pedestrian safety, we are monitoring sidewalk conditions in commercial areas after snow storms. In past years, Brookline sidewalks have often been hazardous after storms because of snow and ice. We are particularly concerned about commercial areas because they are used extensively by pedestrians.
Owners of commercial properties and apartment buildings are responsible for clearing sidewalks of snow and ice within a few hours after winter storms. Although the Town helps by plowing many sidewalks including those in commercial areas, property owners remain responsible. Enforcement duties are shared by the Police department, Health Department, and Department of Public Works. Nevertheless, the Town relies heavily on residents to file complaints when there are problems.
We have set up a team that is inspecting sidewalk conditions in the major commercial areas after each significant snow storm. We are reporting problems through Brookonline. The Department of Public Works is committed to following through on our reports. We currently have the capacity to cover Brookline Village, Coolidge Corner, and Washington Square. We welcome other volunteers who will extend our capability at least to the other commercial areas.
By calling attention to the importance of safe sidewalks throughout the winter, we hope to achieve more effective public and private efforts to clear sidewalks of snow and ice.
Age-Friendly Cities program
Brookline has been accepted as a member of the World Health Organization's international network of "Age Friendly" cities. Although the WHO network includes over 100 cities in 18 countries, only eight other cities in the U.S. have been selected to join. Brookline is the first municipality in New England invited to join the network.
Betsy DeWitt, Chair of the Brookline Board of Selectmen, commented, "We are excited to be recognized by the World Health Organization. Brookline is a great place to live for people of all ages."
For more information, read the news release.
Brookline's application was supported by a preliminary plan entitled: Age-Friendly Brookline: An Assessment of Brookline's Age-Friendly Features and Plans to Pursue Additional Age-Friendly Features.
The plan was developed by a committee with representatives from the Board of Selectmen, the Council on Aging, and BrooklineCAN. For more information, contact Frank Caro (firstname.lastname@example.org).
BrooklineCAN co-founders, Frank Caro and Ruthann Dobek, present a framed certificate to the Board of Selectmen of Brookline's acceptance to the WHO (World Health Organization) Age-Friendly initiative.
The photo includes from Left to Right: Betsy DeWitt, Board Chair; Frank Caro, co-founder BrooklineCAN (Brookline Community Aging Network); Mel Kleckner, Brookline Town Administrator; RuthAnn Dobek, co-founder BrooklineCAN and Director Brookline Council on Aging; Dick Benka, Brookline Selectman, Nancy Daly, Brookline Selectman; and Ken Goldstein, Brookline Selectman. Photo credit: Carol Caro.
Tax Relief for Low Income Older Homeowners
The committee is reviewing a Warrant Article for Brookline's spring 2011 Town Meeting Concerned with financial eligibility for property tax abatements: To see if the town will approve adjustments to the factors applicable to the qualification for the Elderly Tax Exemption provided for and as permitted in General Laws Chapter 59, section 5, clause 41C as follows:
- To reduce the requisite age of eligibility from 70 years of age to 65 years of age;
- To increase the income limit described as the preceding year's gross receipts from all sources from $13,000 to $20,000 for single taxpayers;
- To increase the asset limit described as the whole estate real and personal, from $28,000 to $40,000 for single payers;
- To increase the income limit described as the preceding year's combined gross receipts with his/her spouse from $15,000 to $30,000 for married taxpayers;
- To increase the asset limit described as the whole estate real and personal, from $30,000 to $55,000 for married taxpayers; and
- To exclude from the computation of the whole estate that real property occupied as his/her/their domicile except for any portion of said property which produces income and exceeds three dwelling units.
Elder Friendly Parks
Committee members are examining Brookline parks with an eye on features that make them attractive to older residents. The committee is particularly interested in parks in neighborhoods with large concentrations of older residents. Paths and benches are of particular concern. The committee wants to be assured that paths are in good condition and are free of high-speed bicycle traffic. The committee also wants all parks to provide benches and that benches be in good condition.
Pedestrian-friendly sidewalks and crossings
Walking is important for older residents both as a transportation option and as a form of exercise. Good sidewalks are essential for safe walking. Brookline has a major effort to improve sidewalks in progress. Yet, sidewalk conditions need attention not only in the winter but throughout the year. The committee will call attention to sidewalks that particularly need attention.
We are monitoring sidewalks during the winter months and reporting icy ones to the Department of Public Works. If you want to help with the monitoring effort, contact Frank Caro.
Cross walks are also important for pedestrian safety. The committee will advocate for well-marked cross walks and enforcements of laws to protect pedestrians.
Recently, the Livable Community Advocacy Committee reported a neglected crosswalk on Station Street near the Brookline Village T stop. Within two weeks the crosswalk was repainted. A recent increase in the town's street painting budget allows the Department of Public Works to repaint lane markings twice a year. If you spot a crosswalk that needs repainting, call them at 617-730-2156.
Access to toilets in commercial areas
People of all ages may have an immediate need for access to a toilet when away from home. Visitors to the town's commercial areas may not readily find a toilet that is open to the public. The committee will encourage merchants to make toilets available to the public. Thus far, the committee has identified restrooms in Brookline's public buildings. We are also identifying restrooms available to the public in the town's commercial areas.
The committee recognizes that housing is a major concern of older residents and will support efforts to expand options for those with low and moderate incomes.
- Number of floors
- Total units with counts by number of bedrooms
- Year constructed
- Amenities - Guest Units, Balconies, Indoor/Outdoor common areas, Guest units, Laundry facilities, Community room, Exercise room, Pool
- Parking (Indoor or outdoor)
- Pet policies
- Concierge, Door attendant
- Handicapped Access
Water charges for low-income older homeowners
We are concerned about the consequences for low-income, older Brookline home owners of a new method of determining charges for use of water. In July 2011, the Town adopted a new method of calculating charges for use of the water it purchases from the Metropolitan Water Resources Authority and distributes through the Town's pipes. The old payment system charged customers entirely on the basis of the extent of their water use. The new system introduces a base charge for all users regardless of the amount of water they use. The base charge for most residential customers in the new system is $200 per year. In addition, the new system continues to charge customers on the basis of the amount of water they use. The rationale for the base charge in the new system is that the Town has fixed costs for supplying water regardless of the amount of water used.
One consequence of the new payment system is a proportionately large increase in charges for those who use very little water. We are concerned about low-income older home owners who use minimal amounts of water who may have difficulty in adjusting their budgets to absorb a steep increase in the cost of water. The Town is sensitive to the plight of cash-poor older homeowners and offers several programs to reduce or defer property taxes. We want the Town to be similarly sensitive to low-income older residents in its charges for other services.
With help from the Assessor's office, we have learned that approximately 100 households headed by an older person are participating in a program to reduce or defer property taxes. Of these, 13 are single-family households. The Town has agreed to examine changes in use of water and charges for water over time to determine how these households have actually been affected by the change in the payment system.
We have been assured that the Board of Selectmen shares our concern about the possible adverse impact of "rate shock" on low-income households. The Board will consider a means-tested reduction in base rates if there is evidence of an adverse impact of the system on low-income households. The Town is monitoring water use and water charges for the final six months of 2011. We expect that data will be available in January.
We will be examining the results of the analysis as soon as the information is available. We are prepared to advocate for revised rates in the fiscal year that begins in July 2012. The Board of Selectmen is responsible for setting rates for water use as it is for use of other Town services.
In this instance, we are concentrating on home owners because they are charged individually for water use. In the case of multi-family residences, a single water pipe usually serves an entire building. Each building has its own method of charging residents for water. When low-income families live in multi-family buildings with a single water service, there usually is also no way to measure use of water by residents of a particular unit. For these reasons, it is not feasible to determine the extent to which there are frugal, low-income water users who live in multi-family buildings who are adversely affected by the new billing system.
We have been concerned that the new parking meter system adopted by the town in the spring is not elder-friendly. The new pay stations, which have replaced the individual meters at central parking lots and on many streets, have usability issues for drivers of all ages, which the Town is working to rectify. However, we feel the new system poses unique challenges and hazards to older drivers. These include:
- The potentially significant additional walking to and from the car to the pay station – sometimes on icy or slippery pavement
- The need to step up and down a curb in order to use the pay station, posing an additional risk of tripping and falling
- Having to bend down to retrieve the ticket from the pay station
- The possibility of having to stand in line in inclement weather waiting to use the pay station.
While these factors represent inconveniences for most of us, they pose real hazards for elderly people who, while still able to drive and do business around Brookline, may be frail, more prone to losing their balance, or have difficulty walking longer distances.
We would like to help develop a special program for senior residents that would enable them to purchase an annual parking permit instead of paying for each use. Such a program would be revenue-neutral and enable elderly residents to continue enjoying Brookline's commercial areas. Many communities and municipalities do have special programs for older drivers. In Newton, for example, for $6 per year and in Natick at no charge, senior residents can obtain special parking permits that allow them to park without feeding the meter. We are currently working with Mel Kleckner, Brookline Town Administrator, to further research this idea and assess its practicality for Brookline.
Here is an article that talks about BrooklineCAN's work in this area.
Caregiver Parking on Brookline Streets
Brookline's restrictions on use of streets for parking are creating problems for some providers of home care. We have learned that Brookline's Transportation Department is making it more difficult for motorists to get exceptions to its parking policies. Because caregivers often drive cars to the homes of their clients, they need a place to park while they are on duty. Care recipients may not be able to provide their caregivers with off-street parking. A Town parking lot may not be close by. Brookline limits on-street parking to two hours throughout the Town. Often caregivers need to stay for more than two hours. Of particular concern are residents who need 24-hour home care. A caregiver may need on-street overnight parking during a 12-hour shift. Brookline does not allow overnight parking on its streets. The Livable Community Advocacy Committee and the Council on Aging will ask the Transportation Committee to provide permits to allow caregivers to park on Brookline streets while on duty without worry of being ticketed or towed.
To be fully effective, we need to hear from caregivers who are experiencing difficulties so that we can ask for changes that provide the relief that is needed. Those who are affected by this parking problem should call the H.E.L.P. program at 617-730-2777.