Making the Move to Senior Living

Maintenance-free Residential Options

If you want to continue living on your own but don't want the responsibilities and upkeep of owning a home, a maintenance-free senior living residence may be a good alternative for you. These residential options eliminate the hassles of home repairs, lawn care, snow removal and other similar chores, and they offer the benefit of living among your peers. Many communities offer enriching activities and convenient services to foster independence and encourage socialization. 

There are several different senior living options to choose from. Understanding which aspects are most important to you will help you determine which option best fits your needs.

Senior Housing

This option consists of apartment-style residences tailored to the needs and preferences of people with a minimum age or older. The residences are often designed to make life easier, with features like railings in bathrooms, power outlets higher up on the wall or even 24-hour emergency call service. Some places also offer supportive services, like meals, transportation, social activities and other programs.

Fees and monthly charges vary depending on the size of the residence, the services provided and the income level the building or community is designed to serve. Subsidy programs can help make rent more affordable. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds the following rental assistance programs for qualifying seniors.

Public housing was established to provide decent and safe rental housing for eligible low-income families, seniors and people with disabilities. Public or low-income housing is owned and operated by local housing authorities. To apply, go to the housing authority in your area. The local representatives will explain their system for accepting applications and how to find an available apartment.

HUD's Section 202 program helps expand the supply of affordable senior housing in two ways. First, private, nonprofit sponsors are extended capital advances to finance the construction, rehabilitation or acquisition of supportive housing for low-income older people. Secondly, owners are subsidized with rental assistance funds, which are passed along to qualified residents to cover the gap between what individuals can afford (generally 30 percent of their adjusted income) and the actual operating cost of rent. Occupancy in Section 202 housing is open to very low-income households composed of at least one person 62 or older at the time of initial occupancy. For a list of privately owned, affordable communities near year, contact your local HUD offices. To apply for housing, visit the management office at the community you select.

Retirement Communities

Choosing a retirement community enables you to continue working, traveling, volunteering, and enjoying life outside the community. There are two general types of retirement communities: those that offer a continuum of care options, called Life Plan Communities or Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs), and those that don't include long-term care services.

Both types of communities are usually a campus-style setting, with more choices in residences and a broader selection of services than senior housing. The size and style of homes can range from efficiency apartments to two-story, three-bedroom homes with garages. Homes can often be customized with special features like upgraded appliances, crown molding, hardwood floors, sunroom additions, and other similar options.

Most retirement communities today include a wide variety of appealing, on-site amenities. They may include heated indoor pools, fitness centers with personal trainers, restaurant-style dining and a selection of meal plans, guest lecturers and performers, libraries, education programs and social events, woodworking shops, gardens, coordinated trips, and chaplaincy programs. Conveniences like hair salons, banking and transportation services are usually available as well. 

Living in a retirement community may be more costly than senior housing, but it may also deliver more value in terms of residence, services and amenities. Fees vary widely depending on the features and benefits included. For example, fees charged by Life Plan Communities / CCRCs may be higher, but they provide ongoing health care services to meet changing needs as you grow older. Having access to assisted living and skilled nursing care enables you to stay in the same community if your physical or mental health should ever change. It's important to know what benefits and services are important to you to determine which type of community is worth considering.

Retirement communities also offer different types of financing plans. Some require a one-time entrance fee and then monthly payments thereafter. Some operate on a rental basis, charging monthly payments but not requiring an entrance fee. Some even offer a choice of finance plans and refund options to accommodate different financial situations.

Life Plan Communities / CCRCs offer similar financing choices, but their independent living contracts address housing, services and health care for life. There are three common types of contracts:

  • Life Care Communities / CCRCs provide access to all levels of heath care, including assisted living and nursing care, with little or no increase in monthly payment, but entrance and monthly fees are typically higher in these communities.
  • Fee-for-service communities charge full daily rates for all assisted living or long-term nursing care, but only if services are used.
  • Some Life Plan Communities / CCRCs include a specific amount of nursing care in the contract, beyond which the resident is responsible for payment.

Factors to Consider When Choosing to Move to Senior Living

Pros:

  • Gain freedom from the worries and responsibilities of homeownership
  • Have more time for the people, places and activities you enjoy
  • Live surrounded by people who share similar interests
  • Enjoy access to appealing amenities
  • Benefit from life-enhancing services
  • Have the advantage of on-site conveniences and transportation
  • Receive reassuring access to health care options
  • Eliminate your property tax obligation

Cons:

  • Leave a familiar home and neighborhood behind
  • Incur potentially higher costs
  • Deal with challenges of organizing possessions and downsizing
  • Have to decide what to do with your current home

Ready to start shopping? Take along and fill out this handy checklist of questions to ask during your visits to retirement communities.

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