Senior housing

Plan ahead. Senior housing consultant Michelle Lytle-Westrom wants you to take that message to heart, above all else. The future will be here before you know it.

Lytle-Westrom spoke to a standing-room-only crowd, most of us with gray hair, at the library last Sunday afternoon to run through various options once we were ready to downsize to a lower-maintenance living situation.

The good news: The market offers plenty of options. The less-good-news: Almost all of them are astoundingly expensive.

There are 55+ communities with homes to buy or rent, either age-qualified (one of the tenants or owners living there must be at least 55 years old) or age-targeted (any age, including families with young children may live there).

There are Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) that require residents to pay a sizable buy-in fee and be able to live independently when they move in and for the foreseeable future, then offer higher levels of care as needed as residents age. CCRCs provide many amenities, such as transportation to shopping and medical appointments, meals in a communal dining room, and entertainment options on site. Residents pay a monthly fee equivalent to rent for a very nice home.

There are standalone assisted living and memory care facilities. And there are a limited number of income-restricted apartments for people living on very modest fixed incomes.

The newest option is rental CCRC units that don’t require a buy-in, although, unlike traditional CCRCs, once tenants run out of money, they will have to leave.

Health and physical abilities decline with age. Each of the CCRCs has a range of contract choices that spell out how the resident and facility split health-care costs. Lytle-Westrom listed many questions that people will want to ask before making a decision about what type of housing arrangement is the best fit.

Almost every housing option Lytle-Westrom discussed has a waiting list of 5 to 10 years. Nearly 20% of Orange County residents are at least 60 years old, and as people live longer, that percentage will only rise, and the wait lists will grow longer.

Many people are reluctant to leave their longtime homes rife with memories and downsize to a retirement community. But they gamble with fate, given that they must document they are in good health physically, mentally and financially before they move in. Instead, they might look to the future, toward the prospect of moving into a community where they might establish longtime friendships over a decade or two.

For an overview of senior housing options, visit UNC’s Partnerships in Aging website, Click on the “Initiatives” tab, then select “Senior Housing Report.”

— Nancy Oates


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