It used to be that if you were looking for a place to retire, you found a warm community with shuffleboard and golf and called it a day. But as America's 78 million baby boomers approach their sunset years, the generic retirement model is starting to give way to what developers are calling affinity housing--niche communities where choosy boomers can opt to grow old alongside others who share a specific interest.
Can't get enough Garth Brooks? A community planned by the Country Music Association in Franklin, Tenn., will offer music-industry retirees a range of living options, from standard apartments to nursing-home care, complete with recording studios and performance venues. Asian Americans who yearn for cultural immersion can move to Aegis Gardens in Fremont, Calif., which was designed under the watch of feng shui consultants and offers tai chi classes. Then there's Fountaingrove Lodge, the U.S.'s first facility to offer long-term continuing care for gay and lesbian retirees. It broke ground last year in Santa Rosa, Calif., and is already 50% reserved.
In all, there are 100 communities in the U.S. that offer everything from standard housing to continuing care, which provides assisted living or skilled nursing to residents as required.
As the economy recovers, housing experts expect to see many more such communities. Driving the shift: developers' desire to attract boomers, who are likely to move when they retire and who control 70% of the wealth in the U.S. Also playing a role: evolving attitudes toward retirement and the desire to remain active as long as possible.
Niche living is the latest step in the evolution of the planned retirement community, a notion that began in the 1960s and more recently expanded into so-called university-based retirement communities, like those located near Oberlin, Penn State and Dartmouth, where residents can take courses and attend sports events. A new community run by the not-for-profit developer Kendal will open this summer in Chicago with a variety of options for college learning; it is 80% full.
The main thing standing in the way is the economy, which continues to make real estate projects--particularly those without a long track record--risky. The country-music development, the Crescendo at Westhaven, is considering ways to scale back the project so it can open sooner. These developments come with unique challenges too. Shortly before the grand opening of Aegis Gardens, Aegis Living's first Asian-American community, a consultant said the company had to change the color of staff uniforms from blue (a color of mourning in Chinese culture) to green (health and vitality) and overhaul the courtyard fountain, which had a five-pointed star at its base. "That was bad feng shui and would have offended many of the residents," says Aegis CEO Dwayne Clark. "So we ripped it up, cut the points off the star and learned a bunch in the process." A second community is under construction near Seattle.