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Image Courtesy Bridge Street Development Corporation

Aging in Brooklyn: How We’re Helping Older Adults to Age Safely and Joyously at Home

My daily schedule is typically jam packed with meetings, calls, emails, and connecting with nonprofits and partners across our borough. And whenever I find one of those oh-so-elusive moments of solitude, I often reflect on how Brooklyn Community Foundation can be more innovative in meeting the needs of the people living in our communities. I wish I could say that I’ve cracked the code on all the challenges we face. But as of late, there’s an African proverb that regularly comes to mind: “Those who respect the elderly pave their own road toward success.”

Did you know that there are approximately 1.17 million adults aged 65 and older living in New York City? Nearly a third of them live in Brooklyn, which translates to 13% of the 2.6 million people living here. Meanwhile, the poverty rate among Brooklyn’s older adult population is nearly 21%, according to a recent study by The Center for an Urban Future. If the forecasts are correct, this figure is likely to increase, especially among the older adults in our immigrant communities. 

I have to say that it really boggles the mind that we, as a nation, aren’t doing a better job taking care of our community of elders. Even though the older adults among us hold a special place in our hearts, their needs are often overlooked and ignored. 

“From a policy perspective, we need to ask whether support for nonprofits that are supporting vulnerable communities is increasing in step with their needs,” Jo-Ann Yoo, executive director of the Asian American Federation, recently said to me. “Senior work isn’t sexy, but it’s so important.”

Still, I’m heartened by the number of nonprofits focused on improving the lives of older adults. I’m especially proud that we play a key part in this effort. 

Four years ago, we announced a new, permanent commitment to the care and welfare of older adults in Brooklyn, made possible by the CABS Community Foundation and the Fund for the Health & Integrity of Seniors at Brooklyn Community Foundation, whose assets come from the sale of two local nursing homes.

This June, we announced $1,485,000 in new funding to support 14 local nonprofits working with older Brooklynites, among whom is Asian American Federation and Bridge Street Development Corporation which works with low-moderate income residents across Central Brooklyn. Our grant will support Bridge Street’s 92-unit Quincy Senior Residences, an affordable, independent living building with a diverse array of health and wellness, educational, social, and recreational programming for residents and older adults from the surrounding community

Bridge Street’s President and CEO Gregory Anderson told me how heartened they are to be among this great group of organizations, many of whom are new grantees to Brooklyn Community Foundation. “We are particularly proud that this grant was awarded through the Foundation’s participatory grantmaking approach, and that older adults from across Brooklyn came together to review our grant application and determined that we were the right organization to receive the funding.”

As part of our growing commitment to older adults, we participated in the Age-Friendly Brooklyn Task Force, a group of 30 Brooklyn-based organizations that identified 10 top recommendations for making Brooklyn a better home for all. Unsurprisingly, housing was the number one priority. 

“In the Asian American communities, I’ve seen high levels of what I call ‘hidden homelessness’ — with living conditions that would make you want to sob,” Yoo explained. “Just imagine 10 adults living on top of one another.”

Since 1989, the Asian American Federation (AAF) has been a leadership organization in New York serving 1.5 million Asian New Yorkers. 

“There has been a severe housing crisis in New York City for many years, and in Brooklyn, the supply of affordable housing has been shrinking, even as demand has increased,” says Anderson. “For example, from 2010 to 2020, the population of Brooklyn swelled by 230,000 but only 79,000 new housing units were added. There is a need to redefine what affordability means for our community. A term becoming more widely used is ‘income-targeted’ housing.”

I wish I could say housing was the only challenge facing older adults. Other aging-in-place issues relate to safety for seniors, access to public transportation, medical and mental health services, outdoor spaces, social participation, and even employment opportunities.

“In our work, we’ve found that many elders aren’t fluent in English,” says Yoo. “To compound matters, they don’t have much in the way of incomes and don't qualify for social security. Meanwhile, as the enclaves where they’ve lived for so long are becoming more gentrified, where do they go? This is why it’s so important to have nonprofits that are guardians of the community.”

“I am continually encouraged and inspired by the spirit of community and resiliency that resides within the people of Central Brooklyn,” says Anderson. “Whenever I am with our young people, our business owners, our older adults, or being in the community, I always walk away with the feeling that the future for Brooklyn is bright.”

As the population of older adults continues to grow in our borough and around New York City, we know that we need to invest in the nonprofits who are showing up for this vulnerable population each and every day. That’s why I’m asking you to spread the word and please join me in supporting these nonprofits and the elders they serve.

Dr. Jocelynne Rainey

President & CEO (She/Her/Hers)
As the population of older adults continues to grow in our borough and around New York City, we know that we need to invest in the nonprofits who are showing up for this vulnerable population each and every day.