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The rise of affinity communities

Recession has slowed, but not stopped, the trend

Currently, however, developers are finding choppy waters. The economy has delayed or eliminated some projects. "Affinity communities are high risk for getting funded. There's no history, so banks are reluctant to commit," says Dwayne Clark, chairman and CEO of Aegis Living, developer of 33 senior housing communities, including one niche assisted living community for older Asian Americans called Aegis Gardens in Fremont, Calif. Aegis has four more projects in the pipeline.

Eclectic options

Already, existing communities accommodate many different lifestyles, although not all with a formal care component. Former professional and wannabe musicians, actors, writers, artists and other creative types rent apartments at the Burbank Senior Arts Colony in Los Angeles. Retired, union dues-paying letter carriers settle at Nalcrest in Central Florida. Back-to-nature types live in their own cabins in Summertown, Tenn., at Rocinante. Rainbow's End in Livingston, Texas, is geared to RV owners, with assisted living and respite care for those who need it.

Those longing for intellectual and cultural stimulation — not to mention football and basketball games — are flocking to university-based retirement communities (UBRCs). One of the fastest-growing types of niche community, UBRCs are on or near college campuses, such as Penn State, Dartmouth, Stanford, Washington and Lee, Oberlin, Lasell College in Massachusetts, Denison University in Ohio, Cornell and Notre Dame. The next UBRC on the horizon: the New Admiral at the Lake in downtown Chicago, which hopes to partner with the University of Chicago and other local colleges and expects to launch in September 2012.

Feeling at home — and enriched

Part of the appeal of affinity communities, say residents, is that a shared vision or love makes them instantly comfortable and able to forge friendships quickly. "I've never been at a place where I was in the majority," says Russell of Rainbow Vision in Santa Fe. "It's become so matter-of-fact here that I forget that being a gay person is the least bit unusual," he says. What is unusual is that a cabaret and lounge on the property featuring jazz performers, singers, pianists and live DJs is open to the public, as is its award-winning restaurant and fitness center and spa. The offerings are rich and have widespread appeal; some who choose to live at Rainbow Vision are straight.

"We are starting to get a lot more inquiries from baby boomers to rent or buy," says Jane Steinberg, Rainbow Vision's marketing and sales director. "They want to know that there are care options available." Assisted living services are bursting there, prompting the owners to consider retrofitting one of the independent living buildings for more space.

In UBRCs, skilled nursing care is already in place. So far, there are more than 50 such university communities nationwide, with most residents in their 70s and 80s. According to Andrew Carle, within the last five years alone, approximately four dozen university-related retirement communities have been proposed or are under construction. Besides auditing classes or taking in events on campus, back at the community there may be lectures or learning workshops, with college students often collaborating with residents.

Truly part of a community >>

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