The Joys (and Angst) of Housing Choices

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What is it about the term “adult living” that seems so, well, one-foot-in-the-grave to me? Being surely one foot in the grave myself, if one chooses to look at actuarial tables which I do not, you’d think my opinionated mind might be pried slightly more open.

It’s a dilemma. Not whether one is polite and knowledgeable about adult living communities urban or suburban, but how to differentiate — and ultimately make choices among — the often bewildering assortment of housing communities and choices targeting everyone over 50 (and increasingly even below.)

I gave a talk at Rossmoor earlier today, a serene and bucolic adult living/retirement community about 25 miles and 40 degrees from San Francisco. This is no lie; it was 58 in the fog when I left home, 98 in the sun when I arrived. Rossmoor is full of recreational amenities: golf and tennis, choirs and bridge clubs and book groups. You cannot live there unless you are (or are formally attached to someone who is) 55 or older, and if you’re 18 or under you can’t hang around for more than 3 weeks. Rossmoor has its own mildly bewildering housing choices: congregate living, condos, co-ops and big houses on lush lots. It is ranked among the top such senior adult communities in the country and they are everywhere.

Add to these the growing varieties of aging-in-place groups (think Beacon Hill Village in Boston) and the truly bewildering assortment of assisted living facilities. The latter include simple rentals, detached cottages and elegant high rises; you can pay fixed or varying fees, or you can turn over your total estate (if it’s a large one) in return for a promise that you’ll be cared for in style throughout whatever infirmity or affliction arises and unto the grave.

Our friend Berta, widowed not many years ago, made the (possible) mistake of mentioning to her children that the responsibilities of maintaining her tidy, comfortable home were becoming onerous at times. This set off a frenzy of activity among her very active progeny, 3/4 of whom live in far-flung states. In addition to tackling the task of clearing out (“I had to grab a few things I wanted that were about to get thrown away…”) they came up with an assortment of possibilities for the mother whose comfort and well being they value above all else: condos and co-ops and a variety of retirement homes near their own homes, most at price tags more than daunting to someone who grew up in the Depression. Berta hopes to stay put. Most of us do, many of us can’t, and there’s the rub.

3 responses

  1. Those of us without kids face an even more challenging question as who, if we need help and our spouse is gone, will step up?

  2. Your first sentence says it all — this step is often perceived as giving up, accepting mortality. Like cancer, it’s usually spoken of in whispered tones. That needs to change.

    After my father died, my mother was intellectually ready to move out of the house she had occupied for 40+ years. Emotionally, not so much. We spent a long year figuring it all out, and she is now surprisingly happy in her new apartment in an adult community.

    I wonder what will happen with Berta: will her children push a decision upon her, or will she decide on her own? How will she balance her children’s concern with her own comfort?

  3. Kids are often a mixed blessing, as Berta found (she’s probably staying put for as long as she can.) But there’s great help out there from fascinating sources, such as the Natl Study for Chronic Disorganization — that’s a blog I hope to get around to soon.

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