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Guide to Types of Over 55 Communities

Written by Posted On Tuesday, 15 October 2013 03:20

As you look toward your retirement, the search for the right kind of 55+ community is as important as your decision about what part of the country you will retire to. However, there are so many terms used to describe the various kinds of retirement communities that it is easy to become confused and frustrated when researching your options. It seems as though every time you look, some marketing specialist has come up with a new type of community and a new term to describe what used to be known simply as a “retirement home.” I decided it would be helpful to many seniors and their families looking into future living arrangements if there was a detailed guide to different types of over 55 communities, so here are some descriptions of the major classifications:

Active Adult Communities: These communities may consist of many different types of housing, such as single-family homes, cluster homes, multifamily housing such as condominiums, or manufactured homes. Although homes are usually privately owned, outdoor maintenance is generally provided, for a monthly homeowners’ association or condo fee. The distinguishing characteristic of an active adult community is that it is designed for adults 55 years of age or older, and primarily excludes younger residents. Residents in these communities lead independent, active lifestyles, and the communities are not equipped to provide assistance with activities of daily living or health-related services. Active adult communities often offer amenities such as an activities center, golf course, fitness center, walking trails, and other recreational spaces – usually more recreational facilities than most other types of retirement communities offer. They also provide many options for social clubs and programs to keep residents socially and physically active.

Often, active adult communities are located at the outskirts of large metropolitan areas. Del Webb is the pioneer of this type of retirement community, but today there are countless builders and developers who offer similar 55+ communities in a range of sizes.

Age-Friendly Communities: Similar to active adult communities, these also may consist of single-family homes, townhouses, multifamily units, cluster homes, or manufactured homes. The homes and the community are designed to appeal to adults 55 years of age or more – well-lit sidewalks, automatic doors and elevators, affordable and accessible public transportation, and so on – but the community is not explicitly age-restricted. This type of community is set up for independent, active seniors, and offers policies, services and facilities – such as activities centers, golf courses, walking trails, swimming pools and gyms to help retirees stay actively involved in life and enjoy good health. Age-friendly communities are not equipped to provide personal care or health-related services, but outdoor maintenance is generally included for a monthly fee. Many of these are gated communities. They may be in a Planned Unit Development community, and may be livable, easily accessible mixed-use communities in urban areas.

Seniors Apartments: These are multifamily rental units in buildings that restrict residents to 55 years of age or older – although some may be age limited to age 62 or older. Senior apartments do not have a community dining room, and generally don’t provide meals for residents, but many do offer community rooms, organized social activities on the premises, and other recreational amenities. Some of these communities may coordinate vans for errand running or doctor appointments. Living in senior apartments can be a great way for retirees to remain connected and build a pool of friends. Some senior apartment communities receive subsidies from the Low Income Housing Tax Credit and/or local subsidy programs, and can offer lower rents to seniors on a fixed income.

Independent Living Communities: This is an age-restricted (or age-qualified) multi-family rental-housing complex designed for older adults who are primarily able to take care of all of their own needs and activities of daily living. These communities have shared services and amenities – central dining facilities that provide residents meals, housekeeping, landscaping, linen service and transportation services, for example – that are provided for a monthly fee. Although independent senior living communities are for active, independent retirees, some of these communities do allow residents to have assistance from home care agencies. Often, these communities are a part of a CCRC (see below).

Continuing Care Retirement Communities (or CCRCs): These are age-restricted properties offering a combination of independent living, assisted living, and skilled nursing services, all on one housing campus. They provide a tiered approach to senior living. Independent seniors can choose single-family homes or apartments, and then move to assisted living or nursing care facilities as the need arises. Payment plans vary depending on the type of facility and care plan selected, but they usually include a long-term contract between the resident (or their family) and the community. CCRCs are a wonderful option for residents who believe they may require more assistance or health care soon, as CCRCs guarantee lifetime housing with increased levels of care as needs change, and moving from one housing type to another is not the stressful ordeal it can be otherwise.

Because residents pay for care and housing according to a long-term contract with CCRCs, this choice may be beneficial in budgeting your remaining living expenses.

Whether you are looking into retirement communities because it is time for a lifestyle change, or because you foresee needing personal or health care in the near future, finding the right place can be a challenge. The sooner you assess your requirements, the more choices you have. Consider these descriptions of the different types of 55+ communities available, to make the choice that is right for you.

Robert Fowler, President | Retirement Media Inc.

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Robert Fowler

Robert Fowler started 55CommunityGuide.com in 2006 and was one of the first site listing 55+ communities and homes.  The site is now one of the leading sites for retirement communities and individual homes for sale or rent in 55 retirement communities.


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