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Finding Your Niche Housing in Retirement — or Before!

The rise of affinity communities

When he retired in 2008, Patrick Russell assumed he would stay in Florida. He loved living in Miami. But instead, the 67-year-old university administrator and his partner wound up in a condo five states away in Santa Fe, N.M., at Rainbow Vision, a predominantly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community with assisted living on the property. He wanted to live in a community where he was understood — and could also find medical care if he needed it.

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"There weren't other places like this I knew of," says Russell.

But that is changing. Next fall, Fountaingrove Lodge, a swanky LGBT community that will have independent and assisted living as well as dementia care in Santa Rosa, Calif., is breaking ground. A handful of other gay and lesbian retirement communities already exist — and plans for more are on the drawing board.

They are just one part of the growing trend of niche or affinity retirement communities, where people who share similar interests, religions, professional backgrounds or lifestyles decide to live in the same place.

Andrew Carle, founding director of the Program in Assisted Living/Senior Housing Administration at George Mason University, estimates there are about 100 niche communities. "They are the future of housing and will explode in the next 10 to 15 years, when baby boomers hit 75," he says.

Picking your people

Experts maintain that the sheer number of aging boomers — 78 million — means it won't be hard to find 200 to 300 like-minded souls to form a retirement community, whatever it may be. There might be one for Jimmy Buffett fans, for example, or dog lovers, history enthusiasts, gardeners or vegetarians. One company consulted Carle about its idea of a residential cruise ship with independent and assisted living, and skilled nursing onboard for travel buffs. "The options are unlimited," says Carle.

"For the last 30 years, your choices were retire by a golf course or out in the country on top of a mountain. When you look at the generation that created 12 different kinds of Coke, baby boomers aren't going to settle for a generic retirement community or just two or three choices," says Carle. "Within 15 years, I see an LGBT retirement community in every major metropolitan city," and soon after that, "a cruise ship for retirees in every port."

Recession has slowed, but not stopped, the trend >>

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