Senior Living Communities: Not All Golf Carts and Bingo

Senior Living Communities: Not All Golf Carts and Bingo

When you picture retirement living, if your mind immediately goes to golf courses, bingo night, or water aerobics, think again: the future of retirement living is changing.

Retirement Living Is Changing

Rather than more traditional golf-based retirement communities, affinity communities and other nontraditional living arrangements are becoming more popular, especially among the extremely diverse Baby Boomer generation.

With a generation as large as the Boomers, a variety of interests and hobbies characterize today’s retirees. Boomers are not a one-size-fits-all generation, and retirement communities are now in all kinds of shapes, sizes, and flavors.

Beth Baker, a Maryland-based journalist, wrote a book in 2014 called “With a Little Help from Our Friends: Creating Community as We Grow Older” that explains new options and possibilities for housing after retirement.

The emphasis, Baker says, is on community and the ability to maintain connections with other independent, older adults with similar interests and values.

Retirement communities now include a range of interesting options, including:

  • Cohousing: Multiple individuals residing in an apartment or house and sharing common spaces, meals, and responsibilities.
  • Naturally occurring retirement communities (NORCs): Existing neighborhoods with high concentrations of older adults who are aging in place.
  • The Village Model: Similar to NORCs, the Village-to-Village Network enlists neighbors to help neighbors and leverages volunteer work and vetted lists of contractors and other businesses to enable people to age in place.
  • Housemates: Sometimes called Golden Girls-style living, this could be a scenario where two unrelated older adults live together, sharing costs, responsibilities, and companionship.
  • Niche retirement communities: Senior living campuses geared for residents with common interests or values, ranging from military veterans to religious affiliations to sexual orientation, previous careers, or artistic inclinations.
  • Multi-generation living: Grandparents are moving in with their adult children. Adult children are moving home with their parents. Some planned developments are being created to specifically mix different generations.
  • Senior communities outside of the sunbelt: It used to be that people would retire to a retirement community in Florida or some other sunny clime. Now, some people want to stay closer to family but live among people their own age, so retirement communities are now growing in places like Chicago and Detroit.

In an interview about her new book, Baker expressed surprise about the nontraditional living arrangements she came across throughout her research.

“In the past, with traditional retirement communities, people were dependent on a company or nonprofit to create them. That traditional model was much more top-down,” Baker told PBS’s Next Avenue. “…I think many people don’t like the feeling of being isolated from the broader community. They don’t like the idea of being around only older people.”

Senior living communities discussed in Baker’s book include the Senior Arts Colonies in California, an affordable community for retired postal carriers and their spouses and many other spontaneous, creative, or home-grown housing options.

That is not to say that planned age-restricted communities are a thing of the past. The New York Times takes a look into the topic. Housing developments that cater to retirement-age buyers are a hot market. According to the National Association of Home Builders, in 2013 there were 21,000 starts of age-restricted homes, up from 13,000 in 2012.

In these new developments, buyers are also looking for community and activity. Shopping centers, walking trails, and access to the community at large are key features.

What to Look for if You Are Interested in Retirement Living

People often start thinking about where to retire by considering something that is maybe not very meaningful, such as climate. “The more important questions people should be thinking about are how attached are they to their own home and neighborhood,” Baker said in the interview. “Having a sense of community should be raised much higher on people’s priority list.”

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