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Boomers Redefine Retirement Living

They are shaping the future of housing


Neighbors at Kendal at Oberlin, Harvey Culbert is taking voice lessons from retired music teacher Allen Huszti. — Andrew Spear/Aurora Select

Niche Communities

The concept: Live with others who share similar lifestyles, backgrounds or interests.

The numbers: Around 100 across the country.

The price: Depends on community type.

Prices can range from $800 a month for a rental at an RV park or $1,700 at an artists' community, up to several hundred thousand dollars to buy a unit at a university community, with monthly add-ons of $2,000 or more that include some meals, housekeeping, social activities and medical care.

"With 78 million baby boomers, housing options are virtually unlimited," says Andrew Carle, founding director of the Program in Assisted Living/Senior Housing Administration at George Mason University in Virginia. In the next 20 years, he says, name an interest group and there'll be a community for it. "Will there be assisted living for vegetarians or a community for Grateful Dead fans? Residential cruise ships with long-term care? Absolutely."

Today's niche communities are already varied. They're geared to healthy adults but often have an assisted care component. They include places like Rainbow's End RV Park in Livingston, Texas, which offers assisted living, Alzheimer's day care, respite for caregivers and short-term care for the sick or frail. The Charter House in Rochester, Minn., provides a home for former Mayo Clinic staffers, among others. The Burbank Senior Arts Colony in Los Angeles attracts retired or aspiring artists, musicians, actors and writers. Aegis Gardens in Fremont, Calif., caters to older Asians.

The swanky Rainbow Vision in Santa Fe, N.M., is primarily — but not exclusively — for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) clients. While it has assisted living, there's also a cabaret, an award-winning restaurant and a top-notch spa. With 3 million LGBT older Americans — a figure projected to nearly double by 2030 — and typically no adult children to care for them, such communities are expected to multiply.

Hands down, the fastest-growing niche community sector is university-based retirement communities (UBRCs). So far there are 50 or more on or near such college campuses as Dartmouth, Cornell, Penn State and Denison University. While residents are usually in their 70s, 80s and up — besides independent living, there is assisted living and nursing care — UBRCs will appeal to boomers, the most highly educated demographic, when they grow older, says Carle. Residents can take classes and attend athletic or cultural events at the nearby college campus, professors lecture at the UBRC, and young students can complete internships.

Five years ago, Harvey Culbert, 75, a former medical physicist from Chicago, and his wife moved to Kendal at Oberlin, which is affiliated with the Ohio college. He has audited, for free, a course in neuroscience, sings in a college group, and is taking voice lessons from a retired Kendal music teacher. "I'm always interested in improving what I do," he says.

Next: Intergenerational communal housing. >>

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