Senior Housing: Types of Senior Housing

While investigating senior housing, you'll find two things: a lot of buzzwords related to carefree retirement and a lot of pictures of seniors having a grand time.  A retirement community may be indistinguishable from a nice suburban subdivision, while an independent living community-with units more like suite-hotel accommodations-may have the word "retirement" in its name or brochures.  To make matters more confusing, both may offer similar extracurricular activities and non-medical services.  That said, you can divide non-medical, non-assisted-living senior housing into these general categories:

  • Retirement communities, also known as 55-plus lifestyle communities.

These neighborhoods can include single-family homes, patio homes, condominiums or apartments that are purchased outright by the occupants (similar to an ordinary community with deed restrictions), owned as part of a cooperative, leased from a management company or rented.  Most come with a selection of lifestyle amenities such as community pools, tennis courts or golf courses.  However, any medical, personal or senior-care services would be contracted separately. These communities are a growing segment of the housing market and will be addressed in more detail separately.

  • Independent living communities.

Independent living communities usually provide a senior-safe environment with some communal activities and service options-such as meals, housekeeping and transportation.  Individual units can range from freestanding homes to efficiency apartments. Units are contracted from a non-profit or for-profit corporation, and usually require a significant upfront payment plus a monthly fee.  The fees include home rental, utilities, grounds maintenance and any service options.  Medical care may be available on site, but generally is not included in fees.

  • Senior high-rise apartments and apartment complexes.

These facilities have the advantage of being secure, well-staffed and centrally-located.  Apartment rents are inclusive of all utilities, maintenance costs and use of common areas. They're generally more affordable than some other senior housing options, and many qualify for HUD subsidies, allowing residents to pay 30 percent of their income in rent. Senior apartments usually have social directors and enrichment programs, and many offer transportation to doctors' offices, supermarkets and houses of worship.  While most independent living and retirement communities welcome residents 55 and over, senior apartments often require residents (or one member of a couple) to be at least 62.

Who should consider senior housing?

Senior housing is designed for able-bodied singles or couples above a designated age who:

  • Wish to be relieved of the burden of home maintenance
  • Want to enjoy the company of others at the same life stage
  • Want to take advantage of the amenities offered at a particular facility, or a particular geographic location
  • Want to plan ahead by joining a Continuing Care Retirement Community at the least expensive rung
  • Do not have primary responsibility for young children or grandchildren
  • Do not have pets above the specified weight or number for a particular facility
  • Do not mind moving from their existing home
  • Can afford the type of senior housing that suits their tastes

The Fine Print

In the United States, senior housing is made possible by an exemption in the Fair Housing Act, which states that housing developments cannot discriminate based on age, race, nationality, sex, disabilities or family status.  However, the exemption says those standards don't apply to senior housing.  So, most senior housing venues restrict the number of permanent residents under the age of 55, and restrict the length of time underage visitors can hang around.

That makes perfect sense if you think of the problems inherent with pre-school children shrieking and running through the halls of a senior apartment building.  Things get a little fuzzier when nine-year-old twins Suzie and Steve want to spend the summer with able-bodied Grandma and Grandpa at their resort-like retirement community in Florida. 

Senior housing communities also can restrict the number and size of pets allowed, which is fine if you have a calico cat and the apartment of your dreams accepts one pet under 25 pounds.  But if your dog is a 14-year-old beloved lab that you've had since he was a puppy, that might be a whole different scenario. 

Finally, some able-bodied seniors choose to live in their homes, or in non-senior environments, specifically because they do not wish to live apart from an age-diverse community.  So, when considering senior housing, it's important to consider what you're getting, but also, what you may be giving up.  Fortunately, able-bodied and mentally-sharp seniors can make their own decisions about such a move.

More Senior Care Services

>>Review the Senior Care Index for all senior care options.

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