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Arts-Based Programming Supports Aging in Place

Image of a three story multifamily apartment building.The Olivera Senior Apartments in Pomona, California, provide 84 units of affordable housing to people aged 62 and older earning between 30 and 60 percent of area median income. Credit: John Bare

Socially focused programming and amenities are providing people aged 62 and older an affordable opportunity for vibrant aging at the Olivera Senior Apartments in Pomona, California. Although many of the project’s physical aspects — including a community garden, bocce court, dog park, dining terrace, and communal barbecue as well as a large club room, fitness center, and computer room — are designed to promote community among residents, it is the development’s abundant social programming that is ensuring that those spaces are maximizing their potential. In the wake of studies showing both the dangers of isolation and the benefits of arts-based engagement for maintaining seniors’ vitality, Integrity Housing has partnered with the nonprofit EngAGE to ensure a wide variety of activities to keep residents active.

Housing for Pomona’s Seniors

California state law requires local governments to incorporate elements into their general plans that address the housing needs of everyone living in their communities. For Pomona, data from the Southern California Association of Governments’ Regional Housing Needs Assessment, which encourages a regional approach to development, indicated recent growth in the senior population. The city’s 2013 General Plan reflected this demographic shift, highlighting the need for age-specific housing and paving the way for the Olivera development.

The project consists of 84 units, representing a 7 percent increase in the total senior housing in Pomona as of 2013. Completed and fully occupied by October 2017, Olivera is serving tenants earning a range of incomes, with 9 units set aside for residents earning up to 30 percent of the area median income (AMI), 17 units for residents earning up to 40 percent of AMI, 34 units for residents with incomes at or below 50 percent of AMI, and 23 units for those earning no more than 60 percent of AMI. Five of the total units are set aside for veterans receiving rental and service support through HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing vouchers. The project repurposed a vacant lot in a neighborhood characterized by a mix of single-family homes, multifamily properties, a mobile home park, and a small retail center. Nearby public transit helps residents without cars access neighborhood amenities.

Image of tables and chairs in a room with large windows.Built with community in mind, developer Integrity Housing included a variety of spaces to accommodate group programming for residents in the design. The arts and crafts room provides a location for some of the activities run by EngAGE, Integrity’s nonprofit partner managing Olivera’s many social programs. Credit: John Bare

The units feature granite countertops, carpeting in the bedrooms, vinyl plank flooring, and balconies in some units. Energy-efficient construction processes and appliances helped Olivera earn Gold certification from the GreenPoint Rated program. Although most of the apartments are one-bedroom units, one unit has a second bedroom. The $19 million project was financed primarily through the sale of 9 percent low-income housing tax credits along with funds from the Federal Home Loan Banks’ Affordable Housing Program. Integrity Housing, the developer, built Olivera ahead of schedule and under budget.

Art at the Heart of Community

One of the dangers associated with aging is social isolation, which can lead to a range of physical and psychological ailments preventing people from flourishing as they age. At Olivera, Integrity Housing has partnered with EngAGE, a nonprofit specializing in tailoring arts-based programming to senior communities. Meloney Morse, EngAGE’s regional program director, is responsible for orchestrating activities at Olivera and two other nearby senior properties. Morse has cultivated relationships with local art teachers, guest speakers, and community organizations to ensure a variety of classes are available for Olivera residents. Arts classes might involve painting, ornament decorating, or writing. In practice, EngAGE’s offerings extend into domains well beyond the arts; for example, Zumba and other exercise classes offer seniors instructor-led fitness opportunities. Seniors eager to keep up with technology can bring their questions and devices to get help during informal sessions in the onsite computer room. Once a month, Morse organizes a field trip to a restaurant or bar where residents can eat and socialize, listen to music, and dance. Beyond the classes, EngAGE staff have become important community members in other ways, helping residents connect with outside community programs, depending on their needs. These efforts might include helping residents arrange medical visits or appointments with caseworkers or get enrolled in meal delivery programs. Morse estimates that between 30 and 40 percent of residents are active participants in EngAGE’s programming, helping to set the social tone at the property even for those who don’t formally participate.

Image of an outdoor bocce court next to a multifamily apartment building.Some amenities promote physical as well as social activity, such as Olivera’s bocce court. Credit: John Bare

Research exists to support Morse’s empirical evidence of EngAGE’s success at Olivera. A study conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with George Washington University found that seniors participating in arts programming exhibited positive differences in wellness compared with those in a control group. In particular, the study found that participants were in better overall health, visited the doctor less often, and needed less medication. The study also found that participants performed better on measures of mental health. Finally, participants in arts programs were more likely to get involved with activities overall, suggesting a snowballing, spillover effect.

One of EngAGE’s courses was developed explicitly to ameliorate memory loss, a common age-related condition. Developed by TimeSlips, the program centers around collaborative, photo-based storytelling. By the end of the program, participants will have worked on creating their own memoirs, which develops and strengthens their writing ability in addition to benefiting their memory. Olivera demonstrates the potential benefits of building housing with a focus on robust social programming. Providing seniors with spaces intentionally set aside for communal activities — and selecting an experienced partner to activate those spaces with research-backed programming — helps ensure healthier aging for residents.

Source:

Correspondence with Deanne Cecil, director of resident services, Integrity Housing, 18 December 2019; Integrity Housing. n.d. “Property Information: Olivera Senior Apartments.” Accessed 9 January 2020; PRISM. 2017. “Integrity Housing opens new affordable community for seniors,” Sustainability in the Built Environment, 24 August. Accessed 9 January 2020; National Institute on Aging. 2019. “Social isolation, loneliness in older people pose health risk,” news, 23 April. Accessed 9 January 2020; Gene D. Cohen and The Center on Aging, Health & Humanities, The George Washington University. 2006. “The Creativity and Aging Study: The Impact of Professionally Conducted Cultural Programs on Older Adults.” Accessed 9 January 2020.

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Source:

California Department of Housing and Community Development. n.d. “Regional Housing Needs Allocation and Housing Elements,” Accessed 9 January 2020; City of Pomona. 2013. “Pomona General Plan Housing Element 2013–2021.” Accessed 9 January 2020; Southern California Association of Governments. n.d. “Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) & Housing,” Accessed 9 January 2020.

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Source:

City of Pomona. 2013. “Pomona General Plan Housing Element 2013–2021.” Accessed 9 January 2020; Correspondence with Deanne Cecil, director of resident services, Integrity Housing, 18 December 2019; PRISM. 2017. “Integrity Housing opens new affordable community for seniors,” Sustainability in the Built Environment, 24 August. Accessed 9 January 2020.

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Source:

PRISM. 2017. “Integrity Housing opens new affordable community for seniors,” Sustainability in the Built Environment, 24 August. Accessed 9 January 2020; California Tax Credit Allocation Committee. 2015. “Project Staff Report: 2015 First Round,” 10 June. Accessed 9 January 2020; Correspondence with Deanne Cecil, director of resident services, Integrity Housing, 18 December 2019.

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Source:

National Institute on Aging. 2019. “Social isolation, loneliness in older people pose health risk,” news, 23 April. Accessed 9 January 2020; EngAGE. n.d. “About Us,” Accessed 9 January 2020; PRISM. 2017. “Integrity Housing opens new affordable community for seniors,” Sustainability in the Built Environment, 24 August. Accessed 9 January 2020; Interview with Meloney Morse, regional program director, EngAGE, 11 December 2019; Correspondence with Deanne Cecil, director of resident services, Integrity Housing, 18 December 2019

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Source:

Gene D. Cohen and The Center on Aging, Health & Humanities, The George Washington University. 2006. “The Creativity and Aging Study: The Impact of Professionally Conducted Cultural Programs on Older Adults.” Accessed 9 January 2020.

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Source:

Interview with Meloney Morse, regional program director, EngAGE, 11 December 2019.

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