Metropolitan News-Enterprise

 

Friday, January 9, 2009

 

Page 7

 

IN MY OPINION (Column)

Aging in Place Is Becoming More Popular

 

By TED RUHIG

 

The current recession is having a severe impact on the goals of many seniors. In particular, the goal of retiring to a ďretirement villageĒ is being sorely tested as seniors are hit especially hard by rising prices and the stock market plunge. Many, who had planned their move to an assisted living or other retirement community, find that their plans must be put on hold.

Last year, about 1.1 million households could be found in active adult settings for seniors. While this was down from the 1.8 million living in senior living communities more than five years ago, it was never-the-less a healthy number of resident seniors.

Now, under the pressure of the recession, the number of seniors living in such communities is predicted to shrink considerably more. Many employers are cutting back or even eliminating the retirement bonus that many pre-retirement seniors had planned on to help them make an investment in a senior community.

Home equity is often a seniorís largest asset, and the one they usually tap to pay the entrance fees, down payments or monthly service charges when they settle into retirement communities.

The downturn in the housing market makes that equity much less valuable. The Dallas Morning News reports that senior-housing experts donít have hard numbers on the retirees stuck in their homes because of the depressed market, but retirement community executives agree that itís becoming a regular predicament.

From Florida to Arizona, condos are sitting idle as potential buyers find themselves stuck, unable to sell their houses and relocate. The article points out that continuing-care retirement communities may be especially susceptible to the housing slump and financial crisis because they often require new residents to make refundable entrance deposits of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The need for dollars is also putting pressure on active adult communities to scrub age restrictions for potential community residents, which, in some cases, have been in place for decades. Increasing numbers of properties in so-called age-restricted developments are lying empty as the recession continues to bite the housing market and baby-boomers defer retirement.

Proponents of ďage desegregation,Ē as itís known in the industry, say opening the doors to people younger than 55 is the only way their once-idyllic enclaves can weather a worsening economic climate.

Some seniors are opposed to breaking the age barrier for residents. They fear that younger neighbors will bring with them increased crime and nuisance as well as an increase in taxes to support the schools for kids living in these communities. In addition, having these young families around is hard on some seniors, who had hoped that by moving to a senior community, they were leaving the competitive world of the young behind.

Others welcome the breaking of the age barrier. They see it as a way of stalling the aging process. They want their communities to be perceived as active ones, attractive to 55 to 60-year-olds. Families in their communities will help to enhance that active image. No one predicts age-restricted living will disappear. But the financial downturn could force some places to reinvent themselves.

An additional challenge faced by age-restricted communities is reflected by a gradual change in the way Americans view retirement communities. A recent survey by AARP, reported in the Wall Street Journal, found that almost nine in 10 respondents said they did not want to move when they retired, instead opting to age in place.

This confirmed an earlier AARP survey taken in 2007, which showed that 82 percent of people over age 65 wished to stay in their own homes - even if they needed help in caring for themselves.

And that statistic is born out by yet another figure: 60 percent of all home remodels involve some kind of age-related modification. Aging-in-place renovation work is expected to provide one of the few bright spots for residential construction as the recession-battered industry eventually begins gaining ground in 2009.

Remaining in oneís home might even help put the brakes on aging. The Los Angeles Times reports that older people note that they have a better quality of life, more control, more independence and feel less stigmatized when they live on their own - less old, in other words.

Aging in place may very well be the chosen way in the future.

ó Capitol News Service