Boomers in the Driver’s Seat Will Revolutionize Where “Senior” Housing is Located

The days of designing and developing retirement communities that segregate older citizens from the rest of the population might be over now that baby boomers are storming into their twilight years, according to architects who say boomers will “do retirement” on their own terms, in a location of their choosing.

About 10,000 boomers are turning 65 each day and will continue to do so until 2030, according to U.S. Census data. But as of 2007, a scant 6% of Medicare enrollees aged 65 or older lived in community housing with services or any sort of long-term care facility, with most remaining in a traditional community, according to a 2012 Center for Housing Policy study.

Meanwhile, an overwhelming majority of retiring baby boomers have no plans to move, according to a recently released MetLife Mature Market Institute study, and this attitude might impact where senior housing developers locate their communities.

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Only 11% of MetLife survey respondents said they had plans to enter an active adult community, but 83% said they had no plans to move from their current home. AARP has previously released studies showing 90% of retirees indicating a strong desire to remain in their homes and communities, and this could be a key indicator of the need for designing developments with multiple generations in mind.

Rather than having segregated housing for the nation’s seniors, architects need to plan multigenerational developments, and developers must build with more than one demographic in mind, says Dave Stolte, vice president of senior housing at Encino, Calif.-headquartered NAI Capital.

“If you can get the kids to move into a neighborhood where they can be around their parents, and their kids can have their grandparents around—these would be communities with much more utility, where people can age in place. That’s the key,” Stolte says. “Instead of a separate community, seniors can be included into the community.”

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There aren’t too many current examples of well-planned, comprehensively thought out multigenerational communities, Stolte concedes, but he says many senior living developers are realizing that “lifestyle” is a more important concept than “shelter.”

What’s key is incorporating lifestyle into a planned community, with proximity to churches, hospitals, shopping, entertainment, and close to adult children who might become their parents’ caretakers.

“People aren’t wanting to be segregated or seen as a senior,” says Greg Irwin, the president and principal of Irwin Partners Architects. “They want to be a part of all life—not just their own age demographic.”

A large percentage of older Americans remain in their homes because they don’t want to enter an age-specific community, where they’re around lots of people who are similar to them in age only, Irwin says, adding that the future of senior housing development involves finding ways to accommodate seniors’ needs and interests while keeping them a part of the overall community.

“You’re seeing a trend right now to go into a more urban environment and create more opportunity for people,” he says. “We’re seeing an increase in developers asking about how to incorporate senior accommodations into community designs.”

Despite not having current examples to showcase, Irwin says he’s hearing a lot of talk about what it means to blend senior living into a multigenerational community. His firm is currently “working with concepts and ideas on projects,” but isn’t far enough along yet to name any specific projects.

Coming soon, articles on the rise in multigenerational housing, an intergenerational development currently in the works in Massachusetts, and the design of hospitality-style retirement accommodations.

Written by Alyssa Gerace