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Boomers Redefine Retirement Living

They are shaping the future of housing

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Beacon Hill resident David B. Arnold Jr., 83, works out with personal trainer Jan Burgess. — James Estrin/New York Times/Redux

The Village Model

The concept: Live in your own home or apartment and receive discounted, vetted services and social engagement opportunities.

The numbers: 56, with 17 in the Washington, D.C., area alone, and 120 in development around the country.

The price: $100- to $1,000-a-year membership fee, with an average of $500 for a single member, $650 or so for a household.

Growing quickly in popularity, this model will become even more popular in the coming years, say housing experts. That's because studies show most older people want to age in place. The first village was established in 2002 at Beacon Hill Village in Boston; in the last four years alone, 90 percent of the villages have formed.

Village members call a central number for help of any kind. That might be transportation to the grocery store or the doctor, or the name of a plumber, acupuncturist, computer tutor, caregiving agency, home modifications specialist, babysitter for visiting grandkids, dog walker or home delivery company. Because the village may have up to 400 members (although new groups may have fewer than 100), vendors find it an attractive market. The group buys theater tickets in bulk, for example, or contracts with a service provider; consolidated services save everyone money.

Villages offer plenty of opportunities to socialize, whether it's taking yoga down the street with neighbors, attending outings to museums or movies, or participating in a book club, walking group or supper gathering.

Rita Kostiuk, national coordinator for the Village to Village Network, which helps communities establish and manage their own villages, has noticed something about the new people calling for information: "The majority are boomers."

On the horizon: Already, demographers are seeing more older Americans moving, or contemplating moving, into cities and suburban town centers. Rather than being saddled with a house requiring nonstop upkeep or feeling isolated in the burbs, they're within walking distance of shops, entertainment and public transportation. So their ability or desire to drive is not a big deal.

Another trend: divorced, widowed or never-married older women living together. Some who don't know one another are keeping such agencies as nonprofit Golden Girls Housing in Minneapolis busy. Golden Girls offers networking events for women who want to live together, lists requests for women looking, and steers them to services that can help. They don't match women, though; women do that themselves. Others opting for this setup are already friends.

David Levy, a gerontologist and lawyer by training, runs seven groups a week for caregivers. Inevitably, the conversation turns from the parents they care for to themselves. "These boomer women may be estranged from, or never had, kids, have diminished funds, and not a significant other on the horizon. They want to know, 'What's going to happen to me? Who will be there for me?' " he says.

It looks like they'll have choices.

Sally Abrahms writes about aging, boomer, health and workplace issues. She lives in Boston.

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