What’s your passion? Whether you are an art-lover, a yogi, an equestrian, a music fanatic, or just about any type of enthusiast, there is an increasing chance that there is a retirement community geared toward you and your compatriots. Sometimes referred to as niche or affinity retirement communities, a growing number of senior living projects are being designed around a common lifestyle, hobby, interest, or identity.

How affinity retirement communities got their start

Birds of a feather have long flocked together, and in this same spirit, the first intentionally designed niche retirement communities were devised in the late 1980s. Among the early adopters of this concept was Air Force Village West for retired U.S. military officers, which opened in Riverside, California, in 1989.

At that time, this leading-edge non-profit affinity retirement community was actually the third largest senior living community in the country. However, shifts in the population makeup in Southern California eventually led to financial troubles.

 In 2015, Air Force Village West was forced to abandon its affinity model, welcome non-military residents to boost their occupancy rate, and rebrand as Altavita. Later, following a 2019 bankruptcy, the community was sold to a for-profit senior living company.

Growing demand for niche retirement communities

While Air Force Village West fell on hard times (due in part to government land deed restrictions and an evolving retiree market), the idea of living in a community with others sharing similar interests or identities remains an attractive concept to many older adults.

Andrew Carle, MHSA, is an award-winning expert in senior housing, adjunct professor at Georgetown University, and industry consultant. He has estimated that there are roughly 100 affinity senior housing projects in the U.S. — a number that he anticipates growing in the coming years as more and more baby boomers reach age 70.

Dr. Angie Perone, assistant professor and director of UC Berkeley’s Center for Advanced Study of Aging Services, believes that the affinity retirement community model is able to “bring people together around common interests or population groups,” as well as help alleviate social isolation should residents eventually develop cognitive or mobility issues as they age.

Residents agree that the sense of camaraderie can be particularly strong within a niche retirement community. A research paper published in 2016 about Town Hall Apartments, Chicago — a senior living community created to meet the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) seniors with limited income — underscores this sentiment.

The researchers quote one resident of Town Hall Apartments who explained, “I like the community. I like the gayness of the community. I love that. I love that we’re freer here than in other neighborhoods.” Many residents of other affinity retirement communities would likely voice a similar sentiment about the sense of belonging they feel living among others who share their interests or beliefs.

>> Related: Working Toward Equal Access in LGBT Senior Living

A niche retirement community for everyone

It truly is a numbers game when you get down to it. With so many retirees entering the senior living market as prospects over the next decade, it will not be difficult to find groups of several hundred older adults who share a common interest and may find an affinity retirement community focused on that interest appealing.

Already, there are niche retirement communities geared toward a huge array of unique interests. Here is a sampling, though this list just scratches the surface.

Artists: Burbank Senior Artists Colony

Burbank Senior Artists Colony in California is an affinity retirement community targeting older adult artists of all genres. Whether your passion is painting, writing, singing, or dancing, this independent living 55+ community provides senior apartment rentals where artists can focus on their craft and enjoy the company of other like-minded residents. Live theater performances, access to art studios, and creative writing and poetry programs are another staple.

Disney fanatics: Cotino

Mouseketeers might find that their senior living dreams can come true at Cotino, a Storyliving by Disney community in Rancho Mirage, California (with others in development). Like all Disney experiences, the community prides itself on world-renowned service and creative, inviting spaces. Though it is not an exclusively age-restricted community, Cotino features homes in the Longtable Park area of the development specifically designed for those age 55+.

Equestrians: The Ridge at Chukker Creek

Located in Aiken, South Carolina, The Ridge at Chukker Creek is an affinity community designed for the older adult horse-lover (though it is not an age-restricted community). Featuring beautiful common spaces, workout facilities, stables, and miles of trails, this small, tight-knit community is the ideal place to ride off into the sunset.

Golfers: Sun City

If hitting the links is your passion, then Sun City has several affinity retirement communities that might hit the mark. Sun City West in Maricopa County, Arizona, outside Phoenix, boasts seven golf courses, while Sun City Hilton Head in South Carolina has three meticulously maintained courses for residents to choose from on any given day.

>> Related: Fore!: Why Sports Like Golf Might Prolong Seniors’ Lives

Jimmy Buffett fans: Latitude Margaritaville

Older adult Parrotheads are drinking up the good life at one of three Jimmy Buffett-inspired affinity 55+ communities, located in Florida and South Carolina (with others in development). Latitude Margaritaville draws on the fun, food, music, and laid-back lifestyle synonymous with the late, great Jimmy Buffett.

LGBTQ+ older adults (and their allies): Fountaingrove Lodge

Fountaingrove Lodge in Santa Rosa, California, is a luxury retirement community designed to be a safe, welcoming home for LGBTQ+ residents and their allies, allowing people to be their authentic selves. Featuring fine dining, elegant residences, a wide array of activities, and even on-site assisted living and memory care, if needed, The Lodge is an affinity retirement community with much to offer LGBTQ+ seniors.

Life-long learning: Broadview at Purchase College & Mirabella at ASU 

The recently opened Broadview at Purchase College in Westchester, New York, was built on the idea that learning should be a life-long endeavor. In addition to its array of services, amenities, and continuum of care, this CCRC is one of the first University Retirement Communities (URC) in New York and the nation to be situated on a college campus, Broadview boasts an 8,000 sq. ft. “Learning Commons,” where residents and members of the college community can learn, dine, and socialize to form lasting intergenerational connections.

Another life-long learning-focused affinity community is Mirabella at ASU, a 20-story luxury life plan community on the campus of Arizona State University (ASU) in Tempe. It offers all the white-glove services and amenities you’d expect from a high-end CCRC with the added bonus of access to numerous life-long learning classes on the ASU campus and intergenerational events.

>> Related: Senior Year: Blending Senior Living with Lifelong Learning

Zen lifestyle: Enso Village

Enso Village in Sonoma County, California, is a first-of-its-kind Zen-focused continuing care retirement community (CCRC or life plan community) for those age 60 or older. At this affinity community founded on Quaker principles, like-minded residents can enjoy a meditation hall, workshops, hiking paths, acupuncture services, yoga classes, and a host of other wellness-focused services and amenities. 

Tips for choosing the right affinity retirement community

This is but a taste of the many affinity retirement community options sprouting up across the country, designed to appeal to a niche group of retirees. If you think you might be interested in a senior living community geared toward a particular hobby, lifestyle, or interest, an article from Kiplinger Retirement Report offers some helpful tips on selecting the niche retirement community that is right for you.

  • Do some self-reflection. What are your senior living priorities, and how do you enjoy spending your time? Consider the importance you place on things like geography, access to shopping, certain activities, or dining, and availability of support services or healthcare. This will help guide your search. 
  • Take into account price. Many, though not all, niche retirement communities use an entry fee model with new residents paying anywhere from the mid-five-figures to $1 million+ (depending on location, amenities, and residence size). In an entry fee community, residents typically also pay a monthly fee, which covers things like maintenance, taxes, and other services, as well as meals, in some cases. According to the National Council on Aging, monthly fees can range from $1,650 to $16,165 per month for independent living. For some people, this pricing may be cost-prohibitive.
  • Develop a budget. Even if you have saved diligently for retirement, most older adults would still be wise to do some budgeting calculations. Consider in your figures if you plan to rent or buy, how much house you can afford, and how much your current home might fetch if and when you sell it. Will that sale plus your savings be able to cover the cost of any entrance fee as well as any ongoing monthly fees?
  • Take several tours. It’s not enough to visit just one community, nor should you only visit your preferred community just one time. Once you narrow down your favorites, tour them multiple times, at different times of the day, on different days of the week. Meet the staff, talk with residents, eat the food, and be sure to repeatedly check out whatever the niche is that’s drawing you to the community to ensure it meets your expectations.
  • Consider the management. It is extremely important to have confidence in the financial viability of a community before you move there. Ask the administration about the community’s financial reserves. Ask if there is a board of directors and who is responsible for the community’s finances. If the community is for-profit, ask who the owners are.

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