Making Midtown Safe for Seniors

Image of older person crossing a busy street

by Thomas P. Healy

After years of stagnation, many Midtown neighborhoods are celebrating increased residential property values, but long-time residents on fixed incomes may find themselves being priced out of their homes by rising property taxes.

Mandla Moyo, director of community engagement for AARP Indiana, says his organization wants people to age in place, benefit from the transition that’s underway, and build intergenerational wealth through home ownership. “We want to make sure we protect folks who were left out of the economic boom in transitional neighborhoods,” he said, “Folks who stay there are not getting rewarded.”

He specifically mentions African-Americans and communities of color. “Advocates like us want to makes it possible for families to access ability to purchase homes in neighborhoods they live in but some big banks are not lending in communities of color,” he said.  Changes in federal law have “removed issues of redlining on paper, but we’re still systematically leaving people out.”

Moyo said AARP wants to see that long-time residents are included in deliberations that help shape changes in their neighborhood. This includes educating people about the importance of neighborhoods having a variety of housing options.

As an example, he points to AARP’s support for accessory dwellings. “You can put an addition on your home that gives you income,” he said.  “The City of Indianapolis needs to allow for policies like that to be enacted.” He added that AARP has been engaged with the City’s efforts to update infill housing guidelines, and transit-oriented development regulations.

As a way to track neighborhood development, AARP publishes a livability index that uses zip code or address to generate a neighborhood score based on how suitable the area is for all ages, races, abilities, and income levels.

Moyo said AARP has formulated eight domains of livability to give urban planners a framework: outdoor & indoor public spaces, transportation, housing, social participation, respect & social inclusion, work & civic engagement, communication & information, community and health services.

The livability index also offers recommendations to improve the score. “If you want to move a neighborhood from a good to a great place for folks to age in, it shares some policy ideas: invest in infrastructure like complete streets that accommodate all users,” he said.

Many of these domains can be addressed by bridging the digital divide. “Access to broadband and the internet was at one point a luxury. Now it’s a necessity,” he said. “We try to make sure folks have access to broadband.”

Graphic: Livable Communities are good for people and businesses
Graphic provided by AARP


Growing older is a multi-faceted journey. Not only must individuals adapt to neighborhood changes that affect where they can shop, how they can move around, and even where they can live, they must also navigate personal physical, emotional, and psychological changes. And this frequently leaves seniors vulnerable and subject to abuse and exploitation.

Citing U.S. Department of Health and Human Services research, the National Council on Aging reports that approximately one in 10 Americans aged 60+ have experienced some form of elder abuse. Some estimates range as high as five million elders who are abused each year. Because of the complex nature of abuse, these numbers are all considered low. One study estimated that only one in 24 cases of abuse is reported to authorities.

Indiana Legal Services (ILS) is a nonprofit law firm that provides free civil legal assistance to eligible low-income people throughout the state. Jessica Brock, director of ILS’ Legal Assistance for Victimized Adults (LAVA) project said elder abuse is a general term for abuse that happens to older adults that can take many forms. “The most common are neglect, and physical violence,” she said in an interview.

Another type of elder abuse LAVA staff deals with is financial exploitation — someone using older adults’ property without their permission for the benefit for someone other than the senior. “Most often it’s a family member who racks up expenses on credit cards, or makes ATM withdrawals,” Brock said, adding that sometimes houses or properties are deeded improperly to someone else. “In all of these instances, often the abuser tries to isolate older adults so they cannot get help and they become more dependent on the abuser.”

Brock said Adult Protective Services (APS) is a major community partner. “APS is like child protective services for adults,” she said. People who are being abused neglected or exploited can make an anonymous report to APS which a case worker will investigate. “Everyone in the state is a mandatory reporter,” she said, meaning that if an individual witnesses signs of abuse, they have a duty to report to APS or law enforcement.

In Indiana, APS is part of the prosecutor’s office. APS is statewide service with 15 different units throughout the state; each is housed in the county protector’s office. The Marion County Prosecutor’s Office houses Unit 8, which deals with cases in Marion, Boone, Hendricks, and Hamilton counties.

Cindy Oetjen is a deputy prosecutor who has specialized in APS cases for the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office. “Our client base consists of people 18 and up who are unable to care for themselves,” she said. Oetjen said the prosecutor’s office doesn’t get cases until there’s a need to file criminal charges. Referrals can come from anonymous reports, banks, or hospitals.

Another part of her work is educating people about the different types of fraud perpetrated on seniors. Prior to COVID-19, she visited churches, senior groups, neighborhood organizations, and assisted living facilities. Now it’s done virually. “I talk about not answering the phone or using caller ID,” she said. “I tell people that when we were younger, our parents told us not to talk to strangers. Now that same thing applies, but the stranger is on the other end of an email, or cell phone, or text message.”

Oetjen says a legitimate caller will leave a message so it’s a good practice to not answer. Same goes for emails or texts from people you don’t know. “Be more aware of what’s coming to you,” she cautioned, “Throw it away.