50+ Housing Gets a Facelift

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How the Next Generation of Seniors will Reinvent Retirement Communities

Approximately 39.8 million Americans will be approaching the age of 65 over the next decade. These “Leading-Edge Boomers”, a term coined by John K. McIlwain in Housing in America: The Boomers Turn 65, are unlike any previous group to turn 65. Because of increasing life expectancy, they will live and work longer, have better health and more energy, and do not want to be referred to as “seniors.” However, these Leading-Edge Boomers also have greater debt and less retirement savings. All of these factors will influence the housing choices of this generation.

A senior is no longer a single market segment, but several generations spanning 30 years. The housing choices of the greatest generation and the silent generation do not appeal to their independent-minded children. Fewer of the Leading-Edge Boomers will make the migration south to warmer climates, and the age-restricted communities that were popular before the housing crash do not have the same appeal they once did.

Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities

Due to the recession, many boomers may be stuck in homes whose values have fallen or be unable to find move-up buyers. When residents stay in their homes past retirement age, it creates naturally occurring retirement communities (NORCs) in communities that were originally designed for young families with children and cars. At some point in the future these residents will have significant healthcare needs and require an array of personal services. With so many people aging in place a boom will occur in the home remodeling business to make homes more accessible. This may also contribute to the much needed redevelopment of the older suburbs as residents require upgraded infrastructure, community amenities and access to goods and services.

Empty-Nester Phenomenon

Leading-Edge Boomers who have the means to do so are selling their suburban homes and moving to condos and townhomes in urban areas. Urban living is no longer confined to the central city. There are many urban areas outside of the central city with similar amenities, entertainment options, and modes of transportation that the Leading-Edge Boomers are looking for in a community. These residents will also require Virtual Village-type services, but they will have the added options afforded by living in mixed use, multigenerational settings, with access to amenities and use of public transportation.

AARP Photo 1

Co-Housing and Group Living

This is a collaborative housing model in which residents actively participate in the design and operation of their community. The U.S. has more than 110 cohousing communities, both senior and intergenerational. Cohousing communities typically cluster their homes around a central community building called the Common House, which is much larger than a traditional community building. People come to cohousing because they are looking for a custom neighborhood in addition to a custom home and enjoy the “built-in” pool of friends who share community responsibilities and form connections.

Art Studio

Affinity Communities

The Leading-Edge Boomers have more often defined themselves by their interests than previous generations. Affinity retirement communities are a growing trend that targets retirees with a common interest or lifestyle. Taube Koret Campus for Jewish Life, in Palo Alto, California, is a 193-unit; multigenerational, mixed-use community anchored by the Jewish Community Center (JCC) that fully integrates seniors into its daily activities. The site plan is divided into a series of eight outdoor rooms, each with its own unique use, and includes floor plans that boast universal design and accommodate segregated living space for live-in home care providers.

NOHO Senior Arts Colony, in North Hollywood, California, is the first to pair professional theater with an active adult community. This senior apartment community caters to artists and has a professional on-site theater as well as visual arts studios, film editing studios, and free educational art classes.

Corner Building Front

All of these housing options will need to incorporate stylish universal design and green building options to stay competitive in this growing market. However, these housing options also do not need to be confined to urban areas, as few boomers will be moving from the city to the suburbs. Current surveys from AARP indicate that 60 to 80 percent of Leading-Edge Boomers want to retire to non-urban areas.

One certainty is that people will continue to live longer. Cultural Anthropologist, Mary Catherine Bateson, calls these additional 31 years of life expectancy “Adulthood II.” The Leading-Edge Boomers will redefine these additional years of life by inventing new careers, new patterns, and new influences on the marketplace, including the shape of homes and neighborhoods.

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