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Aging in Place Housing Alternatives for Older Residents

Citizens over the age of 65 comprise nearly 13 percent of the U.S. population—just under 40 million seniors. By 2030, it is estimated that 72 million Americans will be over the age of 65, nearly doubling those numbers. Where this volume of seniors will live and how, is a question facing not only the individual seniors but also many boards and property managers, who are seeing an increased population of older residents. It is to be expected that this group will dramatically change the face of aging and retirement.

Newer Trends for Older Residents

Ellen Hirsch de Haan, of the law firm of Becker & Poliakoff in Clearwater, is an attorney, educator and author who has written a book on aging in place for the Community Associations Institute (CAI) and teaches courses to property managers. She has noted several new trends in the pre-boomer generation. “Pre-boomers were looking for destination retirement,” de Haan explains. “They were looking for a lifestyle. Boomers are looking for location: they want the pool, the activities, and the gym.”

Pre-boomer retirement centers were first successfully developed in Arizona and California by multifamily developer Del Webb in the early 1960s. Since then they have expanded to every state, with a variety of options available. Although for many, the term 'retirement center' conjures up the image of a white-walled, isolating institution, with not much more than a Tuesday night Bingo to participate in, there is a new wave of brighter, more modern living situations available. With a longer-living, more physically and socially active retiree population, communities are changing to properly accommodate this emerging trend.

One Community's History

Because of its climate and abundant resources, Florida was viewed as another perfect retirement destination. Sun City Center (SCC) opened its doors in 1962 along the proposed I-75 corridor between Sarasota and Tampa. As one of the first retirement centers in Florida, Sun City Center was billed as an active adult community with the suggestion that those that planned well could retire early and enjoy life in a resort atmosphere. Most businesses and recreation facilities were available by golf cart. As the area has grown and developed, it is still possible to travel many places besides the golf course on those handy carts.

Besides offering homes or single story condos, SCC developers added a high rise (Sun Towers) with various size apartment homes and amenities, such as meals in a common dining room and housekeeping. A skilled nursing center was added nearby.

SCC Chamber Executive Director Dara Dittmyer is proud to mention, “Now there are three additional retirement centers in the SCC zip code area, allowing residents to age within a familiar community even if they are not able to remain in the original home or condo of their choice.”

It is possible to obtain assisted living, skilled nursing and Alzheimer’s care while remaining in the same community. For those that are able to remain in their homes there is no shortage of home healthcare. There is even a hospital in SCC. It will soon relocate to a larger facility to better serve the population that is growing and aging in place in south Hillsborough County.

Training the Pros

Sun City Center had the acreage to grow and add new facilities, to widen roadways and to update with new construction and improvements. But what about an existing high-rise condominium or co-op where the physical plant is aging in place right along with the residents? What resources can a property manager access to provide better service to aging residents in an aging facility?

Many management firms provide training for all its CAMs via continuing education courses, internal training and specifically designed workshops specifically dealing with management of majority-senior communities.

Marjorie Jean Meyer, CMCA, PCAM, runs Associa’s Leisure and Lifestyle Program. As the vice president of integration and special programs, Meyer knows there is more to quality property management than good lawn care. The Federal Fair Housing Act prevents discrimination against residents based upon age or disabilities but serving a community of older folks goes well beyond just the federally-mandated minimums.

For example, take into account any specific considerations for older adults. “When designing or retrofitting a community for older adults, the architect needs to ensure that floor surfaces are non-skid and not shiny,” explains Meyer. “All possible trip hazards should be eliminated, and lighting needs to be brighter.” She also suggests that boards and management companies are cautious, consistent and timely when making accommodations for any special needs.

Additionally, many management companies offer programs, which provide part-time paid experts in event planning to nearby communities that don't have the budget to support a full-time activities director. All experts agree social interaction is a huge part of successfully aging in place.

Robert Weisenfeld is a New York City-based expert on NORC issues. He is an educator and a real estate expert. He recognizes the value of social support programs for anyone and especially for seniors. “Within the confines of a community, residents can support each other socially, emotionally, mentally and physically. In order for a NORC to function well everyone must be on board,” Weisenfeld explains. “The management company and the staff will be first to realize a senior is not doing well mentally or physically.”

When all the necessary Supportive Service Programs (SSP) are in place there is a clear course of action outlined to obtain the proper help in all situations. A NORC SSP is designed to reduce service fragmentation and to provide an integrated community where seniors can age-in-place with comfort and security. In New York there are state guidelines and regulations for NORCs, but Florida currently has no state support or funding.

NORC Beginnings

The first NORC services program in the country officially opened on November 14, 1986 at the Penn South Co-op complex in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood. The 10 building, 2,800 unit complex located between Eighth and Ninth Avenues and East 23rd and 29th streets in Manhattan, was built in 1962 by the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and underwritten by the United Housing Federation (UHF). Designed as a social experiment to provide affordable housing for moderate-income workers, many of the original residents were union members, who once walked to work in the nearby garment center and chose to stay in New York after retirement. By the early ‘80s, 70 percent of the shareholders in the complex were over age 60.

Right around this time Fredda Vladeck, a geriatric social worker at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Greenwich Village, began to notice a lot of older adults coming into the emergency room with preventable admissions. Many lived at Penn South in nearby Chelsea. As Vladeck began to dig deeper, she discovered that many Penn South residents were former labor organizers, most who had never married and half of those who had married, did not have children, and the result was a population without conventional familial supports.

“At that point I went to the Board of Directors at Penn South and told them what we were seeing at the hospital and asked them what they thought would be helpful,” says Vladeck. “The board suggested a nurse or social worker on site but I challenged them to think bigger. I challenged them to think about what kind of community they wanted as this community grew older. And that was the genesis of it.”

Providing Services for Seniors

Larry Lentz is vice president of marketing for Jewish Community Services of South Florida in Aventura. Until recently, his Southeast Florida JCS office worked with two NORC properties. The agency still works with seniors in those locations.

“Aging in place remains the goal,” says Lentz, but community based programs are used to fill the gaps left when grants expired and state funding was not available. His agency still handles approximately 30,000 clients a year. Those clients include not only seniors but also children and abused women served through a variety of programs ranging from Meals on Wheels to health fairs, senior center activities and common meal sites. Survivors of the Holocaust are also among the seniors served.

On Florida’s west coast, in the Sarasota-Manatee area the story is similar. Pamela Baron, MSC, Director of Senior Services/NORC is a project coordinator for Jewish Family and Children Services (JFCS). For the last six years Baron has work with up to six NORC properties. Funding dried up in July, and like Lentz she tries to do more with less. She continues to apply for grants and to work with the staff members at the various properties in an outreach capacity. Like Lentz and Weisenfeld, Baron echoes the same sentiment “aging in place” is the goal for the seniors she serves.

Actively Engaged

Most industry professionals see that the key to successfully providing necessary support to aging residents is to keep them active and involved. Many older adults tend to be retired, because of this, they are able to attend meetings held during the day, such as city council or county commission meetings. They tend to volunteer on multiple committees and are willing to assist in researching issues and hot topics. This availability proves to be a win-win situation because the adults are able to engage in activities while providing much needed expertise and support to the community. These older adults prove to be a tremendous resource to a community.

Another plus is, that since older adults are often home during the day, they recognize normal day-to-day activity. This makes these adults ideal volunteers to provide support for crime/neighborhood watch committees, reporting any unusual activities they may see.

Age must also be taken into account when developing a disaster plan for any property. Most property managers and associations stress the importance of disaster drills to identify any weaknesses. This helps to assure any residents with special needs that they have viable options. It is important to check that exits are accessible, that signage is clearly visible, and that lighting be bright. The location of services available to residents should be wheelchair accessible. Additionally, property managers stress that it is important that information regarding medications and next of kin be kept on file, and ensure that is information is regularly updated.

Property managers and boards can also reach out to residents with surveys, and by soliciting feedback in regular meetings. Property managers are trained through workshops and continuing education to take a proactive stance.

When assessing an existing property for senior-friendly renovations it is important to look for areas that need handrails, ramps, increased signage or lightning. It is also important to make sure that there isn't anything that may present a trip hazard. A good resource that many managers utilize are the terms of the Fair Housing Act. The requirements of this act spell out in detail everything that a property manager needs to know and provide for older and disabled residents.

In Tampa, University Village offers an exciting, stimulating and safe environment for seniors age 60 and up. This Westport property is 23-years-old and offers a full continuum of care to allow all residents to successfully age in place. Conveniently located near shopping and hospitals, UV has a comprehensive program in place. Residents purchase into the Village but they do not own the actual real estate.

What they do own states Public Relations Director Aarene Alessi is a “life care and residency agreement.” All four levels of care including Alzheimer Memory Loss are provided on this 36-acre planned community. Apartments and villas are available in 25 different floor plans, some including garages, in a range from a studio to three bedrooms. University Village was chosen to be a Masterpiece Living Community 10 years ago. Masterpiece Living is a cutting-edge aging initiative where the concept of whole person and whole community encourages residents to live life to the fullest. Dr. Robert Kahn of the MacArthur Study on Aging, top researchers and medical professionals from the Mayo Clinic developed the Masterpiece Living experience.

An increasing population of older residents benefits any community in numerous ways. Through open communication, boards and management companies can create a safe, stimulating and interactive community that not only houses but also engages older residents for many years to come.

Anne Childers is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The South Florida Cooperator. Associate Editor Liam P. Cusack and Editorial Assistant Christy Smith-Sloman contributed to this article.

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