Traditional retirement communities were conceived as places where older people would enjoy the companionship of neighbors who are part of their generation. Some seniors who live in those communities see the absence of children (apart from visitors) as contributing to a restful retirement.
Most retirement communities are located in suburbs and small cities, where developers can purchase land at a reasonable cost. Seniors in large cities often have fewer housing options. Relocating is the right choice for some, but other seniors prefer an urban lifestyle.
Urban Village Housing
Some developers are meeting the need for senior housing options in urban environments by focusing on properties that cater to a mix of generations. The “urban village model” of housing is designed to help city dwellers resist a move to the suburbs as they grow older.
The urban village approach to senior housing is grounded in the recognition that the growth of affordable housing in cities is not keeping pace with growing numbers of older Americans. To make urban housing affordable, developers are rethinking the traditional concept of one-to-three bedroom apartments in high-rise buildings. Instead, they are converting properties into smaller suites with bedrooms, bathrooms, and kitchenettes. Renters then share communal living areas, holding down the costs associated with more spacious apartments.
This approach to urban housing takes advantage of local resources. While a retirement community might offer pickleball courts, walking paths, and recreational rooms, residents of senior-friendly developments in urban areas have access to nearby parks and community centers. When amenities are maintained with tax dollars, residents don’t need to pay monthly association dues to cover their upkeep.
Many seniors also appreciate living within a walkable distance from retail stores, restaurants, bodegas, and wellness centers. Seniors who are used to living in a large city appreciate housing options that allow them to enjoy the convenience of living in a neighborhood that meets all their needs.
Mixing generations in rental housing developments can help younger and older people develop connections. While some elders prefer to live in age-restricted retirement communities, others might feel isolated from the larger society if they are not surrounded by people of all ages.
Urban strategies to keep residents from fleeing to the suburbs include revitalizing downtown areas and increasing the supply of affordable housing. In some cities, developers work with local governments to build or renovate apartments that target a mix of older and younger tenants. Mayors who are under pressure to increase the supply of affordable housing for a growing population of older residents are easing regulatory hurdles for developers who commit to making affordable housing available to senior residents.
Unfortunately, construction costs are rising, making it difficult to develop affordable housing for tenants of any age. Tax credits and other local government incentives may be necessary to stimulate housing projects that are attractive and affordable. Mixed use housing, using expensive penthouse apartments to subsidize more affordable apartments marketed to seniors, are one solution to the challenge of developing an intergenerational mix of younger tenants who are entering the workforce and older tenants living on fixed incomes.