As Neighborhoods Revitalize, We Must Protect Our Seniors

 

Guest Commentary
by Williams D. Brack

There are exciting new projects happening in Memphis from Crosstown Concourse to Broad Avenue.  Foote Homes is evolving to South City and the old Greenlaw has transformed into Uptown.  All of this new development is sure to bring rising property values which many people welcome.  However, with rising values, come rising property values.  For those living on a fixed income, most of them seniors, developers and the city should be intentional about ensuring that this demographic isn’t forced to forego rise properties values because they can’t afford the taxes.

Harvard University and the AARP Foundation found that by 2024, “the number of households aged 65 and over with incomes less than $15,000 is expected to rise 37 percent, or by 1.8 million households.” The report also found that the supply of affordable homes with universal design features to make them accessible to the many older adults with disabilities falls far short of demand.

Based on an analysis of migration patterns at the national and local levels, African American households, regardless of income, are more likely to end up in a neighborhood with lower income residents than their current neighborhood. This differs from the pattern of migration for white, Latino, and Asian households, each of which are more likely to move to a neighborhood with residents at the same or higher income level.  Thus, African American seniors, if displaced, are more likely to find themselves in neighborhoods with fewer health-promoting resources and/or lower quality amenities, as average neighborhood income is closely tied to the availability of neighborhood resources.

According to the Memphis Poverty Fact Sheet, the Memphis poverty rate for people 65 and older is 11.4% overall and 13.4% for African Americans.  Meanwhile the Shelby County poverty rate is 5.4% overall and 14.1% for African Americans.  That means that between 36,000 and 92,000 seniors are at risk of being priced out of their neighborhoods due to taxes.  

To retain seniors in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods means that we are preserving the culture and hearts of many of our rapidly transforming communities.  Developers must be intentional in creating plans that allow for our seniors to take advantage of rising property values but limit the effect of rising property taxes on fixed income. The Shelby County Trustees Office currently has a tax relief program to help taxpayers over 65, disabled citizens, and veterans pay their property taxes. 

But we must be do more.  Programs need to be put in place that set aside a pool of funds dedicated to low-income seniors over 65 to renovate their homes.  This program will allow for seniors to update their homes and for the house to fit in with the other newly built or renovated homes.  As Memphis changes, we must embrace and protect our low income seniors and allow them to share in the revitalization.  The culture of every neighborhoods is enriched by them.    

Williams D. Brack is a commercial banker, civic volunteer, and community activists.  He can be reached at williamsbrack@gmail.com

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