Perspective: A New Vision for Seniors Housing

By Bob Koch, Principal, Fugleberg Koch ArchitectsAs the emerging population of baby boomers enter their pre-retirement and retirement years, they are bringing to the market a new variety of housing objectives, activity interests and product responses to consider. They are not the generation that preceded them. Their interests, lifestyle, financial capacities, and tastes are the result of a body of life experiences that differ dramatically from seniors in the earlier era.The New Group of SeniorsAs a group they arrive at mature years with a higher education, a healthier awareness, a worldlier vision, more discretionary income, and an appetite to pursue the senior years with focus and purpose and not to simply recreate and then wither.They have experienced great cultural, technological, and geographic change. They had a car at 16, given birth to the “love generation”, adopted the personal computer, traveled globally, liberated women, invoked civil rights, embraced the “Pill”, and largely enjoyed years of economic prosperity. Their generation has invented Viagra and Botox; they obviously have different plans for retirement.Their masses are as varied as any other segment of housing, divided by income, education, activity preferences, culture and age. Responsively, the housing they seek fits as many alternative expressions as would be found in any other age segment. Only concerns of aging and mobility offer added design parameters to the product considerations they covet.Old and New Seniors Housing OptionsAgainst this backdrop we see certain traditional senior housing offerings (ranging from independent retirement bungalows to self-indulgent sport-activity rich communities) continuing to find appeal. Concurrently, other new options are becoming available and finding great appeal and acceptance in the range of choices seniors’ desire.Conventional “active senior” and “senior only” developments that have historically served the pre retirement (50 plus) and retirement markets show little signs of losing market performance. New communities however with “age targeted” agendas (vs. age restricted) are finding strong appeal while still allowing a heterogeneous resident profile. While still generally older by average age, these communities differ by also encouraging children, grandchildren and other family members to live nearby. “Retirement towns” like Sun City and The Villages will continue to grow and increase in population with residents from all age sectors because of the broad appeal of their fundamental lifestyle and value oriented positioning.Within these settings and independently, the dwelling product variety is finding shape in multiple forms for the (physically and mentally) active senior who wishes to crowd more life into the years that remain.The choices are to be found more frequently in regions where basic quality of life issues such as: •    Low taxes (personal and real estate),•    Stable cost of living,•    Moderate weather conditions,•    Easy transportation access to varied destinations, and•    Quality health carecan all concurrently resideSome of these new or more popular product variations include the following:•    Move down “lock and leave” multifamily homestead•    Rental apartments with extensive age-appropriate amenities•    Cluster housing communities with common maintenance and lifestyle offerings•    Wheel Estate (floating too)•    Urban or Collegiate oriented settlements with strong cultural, entertainment, sports, or learning opportunities•    Compact independent-single oriented multi-family offerings with al-la carte support offerings (affordable and market rate)•    Traditional Neighborhood executions with mixed-use activities within walking distance•    Life care communities•    Resort quality seasonal and permanent housing developmentsWhat They Want?Many of these offerings substantially differ in appearance, arrangement, size and feature from the product we historically have associated with senior housing. They come to market at a time when market share is increasing and the industry is retooling to meet the opportunity informed and forward-thinking, instead of reflective on solutions from the past.Few consumers in this age group want their parent’s retirement experience. They have dealt with change throughout their lives and (within reason) are willing and interested in exploring change as vital part of living for tomorrow. In addition to the range of product differences you would also a range of varied interests and objectives to fill the “found time” that now occupies their life.  These interests reflect an expanded wave activity, fitness, and intellectual pursuits that command commitments of time and resource.  In areas of common activities, golf (still valued and sought) is being challenged by other outdoor interests such as fishing, walking/hiking, nature watching, and travel.  Added to that, consider educational pursuits including computer literacy, advanced educational interest, culinary and dietary management, fitness disciplining, spiritual and holistic regimes, and cultural enrichment.  These latter areas are discovering success through physical proximity to, affiliations with, or operational integration from colleges and universities, religious and service based organizations, medical and research campuses, and community based cultural and sports facilities.Common amenities are incorporating self indulgent impressions such as amenities found in spas, high cuisine emporiums, private clubs, and managed fitness salons. Pet friendly (and amenitized) developments add considerably to the appeal.  Social facilities and venues that can be scaled to small gatherings of common interest can promise early entry into the social fabric of a community offering.  Concierge style management offering social programming, al-la carte personal and domestic services, and helpful assistance for occasional needs, cap the package of common area benefits.Within the dwelling the attention is directed toward maintenance free and low operating cost priorities (a “green” agenda).  To this add computer space, media facilities (with state of the art programming capacity), garden hot tubs (not Jacuzzi bathroom tubs), man sized showers, entertain-able kitchens, adult “libation stations”, and views to die for.  Clearly they are seeking the rewards for a hard life of work and are comfortable with “squandering their children’s inheritance” on themselves.While “aging in place” is always an unspoken concern, universal accessibility arrangements are of quiet importance but their execution should avoid a “disability based” or medical appearance.  Concurrently, security remains priority one.  From area location and site selection to the quiet assurance of control and monitoring facility, every option must assure unchallenged safety without demanding a word of confirmation.Today’s and tomorrow’s senior will reshape our expectations for retirement. Like in their youth and their young adult lives, they will lead society into the new standard that will define the senior years. Theirs will be filled with more opportunities than time allows, more pleasure than responsibility, more intellectual growth than ever, more purpose and value than recent times have recognized. They will live longer, healthier, and enjoy life more fully than the retirement of their predecessors, leaving those of us still in the workforce longing for their lifestyle.