And since the boomer generation is so large — by 2030, the 65-plus population is expected to double to 72 million, or 1 out of 5 Americans — their economic strength, as a demographic bloc, could lead to communities built around all sorts of shared interests. Andrew Carle, founding director of the Program in Senior Housing Administration at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, envisions niche communities for dog lovers, gardeners, even cruise ship enthusiasts. “Boomers have always had the critical mass to demand more choices in anything, whether flavors of ice cream or brands in blue jeans,” he says. “You only need 300 Grateful Dead fans to fill a retirement community.”
Already, those interested in lifelong learning can live at university-based retirement communities on or near campuses. Lasell Village in Newton was one of the first, and there are four or five dozen nationwide now, near such schools as Dartmouth and Cornell. Meanwhile, popular 55-plus communities cater to physically active types. Great Island at The Pinehills in Plymouth has walking trails, fitness programs, nearby golf courses, and a full-time lifestyle director. Highland Meadows in Weston highlights its luxury units and proximity to highways leading to the city, the beach, and skiing in the mountains.
Another common form of shared housing now and for the future is likely to involve relatives, often three generations living under one roof. Between 2007 and 2009, the Pew Research Center reported a 10.5 percent increase in multi-generational housing. Meanwhile, a 2012 survey by home builder PulteGroup found that about 1 in 3 adult children expect to someday share a house with a parent.
Five years ago, music teachers Ted and Wendy Hagarty sold their home in Bellingham. At the same time, Ted’s widowed mother sold hers in Northborough. Together, they bought a spacious Colonial in South Grafton and created an in-law apartment in the lower level with its own kitchen and door to the outside.
The family knew that some multi-generational households run into privacy issues and hurt feelings, so they set clear ground rules from the beginning. “There are adjustments, especially if you are the daughter-in-law, but it’s worked out really well,” says 51-year-old Wendy. “Not all personalities could make it work, but it does because there’s mutual respect.”
Ted, who is 60, says their 20-year-old daughter regularly goes downstairs to have long talks with her 90-year-old grandmother, particularly when she’s had enough of her parents. Ted himself doesn’t “have that panic feeling of not knowing what’s going on,” he says. “And I see my mother at peace. I think it has prolonged her life.”
EVEN WHEN THEY’RE NOT SHARING their homes, plenty of boomers are finding ways to build and share their larger communities.
There was a time when lots of retirees planned on picking up and moving to Florida or Arizona, but the notion of being a snowbird no longer flies the way it used to. According to recent Census estimates, rural areas — including scenic spots long associated with retirees — are losing population for the first time, the situation exacerbated now by boomers who are deciding to keep working and to keep living in their own homes.
“The biggest trend we will see in the next 20 years is people aging in place,” says William Frey, a demographer and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Some area communities are particularly well-suited to this. Earlier this year, Brookline’s ongoing commitment to quality-of-life issues like public transportation and senior housing earned it an age-friendly designation from the World Health Organization, one of only eight such places in the United States. The town holds regular forums to explore needs of older residents, and the volunteer organization Brookline-CAN (Community Aging Network) recently put out a guide listing apartments and condos with amenities such as elevators, concierge services, and underground parking out of the ice and snow.
For the most part, however, this state’s housing stock — with all its narrow doorways and steep stairs — does not tend to match the needs of our aging population, says Kermit Baker, a senior research fellow at the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard. For many boomers, staying in their homes will require renovating them to make them more accessible.
Paul Morse, the 59-year-old owner of Morse Constructions in Somerville, is a contractor helping older people stay safely at home. He is among the state’s 82 Certified Aging-in-Place Specialists (CAPS), a designation earned through the National Association of Home Builders. Since 2008, the number of CAPS has doubled to 5,000 nationwide. Morse says the most common changes are widening doorways for wheelchairs and walkers; installing grab bars, higher toilets, and curbless showers; and reorienting living spaces to make it possible to stay on first floors. Increasingly, experts are adopting “universal design,” intended for all ages and abilities. Eliminating thresholds, for instance, makes moving around easier, whether you’re rolling a wheelchair or pushing a baby stroller. Continued...