What Is a Retirement Community?

What Is a Retirement Community?These days the term “retirement community” is everywhere — appearing all over websites, magazines, books and commercials. However, people seem to be using it an endless number of different ways. What gives?

The root of the problem is that there really are many different types, so one person’s retirement community can be radically different from someone else’s retirement community. Here is a quick rundown of some of the most common definitions:

Age-restricted Retirement Communities: This is usually what people mean when they say “retirement community.” Basically it just describes housing with certain age restrictions. Usually at least one of the residents in each unit has to be over a certain age (50+, 55+, 60+, 62+, depending on the community) and other permanent residents have to be adults as well. There are often restrictions on visitors, especially whether children can visit/stay for long periods of time.

There are many types of age-restricted retirement communities. Some, like The Villages in Florida, can be massive — with thousands of homes and their own recreation areas (pools, performance spaces, golf courses, etc.). On the other hand, a “community” can simply be a regular apartment complex where all the residents are above a certain age. The term can also cover RV/mobile/modular parks with older residents.

Sometimes you’ll see a retirement community described as an “active adult community” — this is a marketing term that usually (but not always) indicates a few things: the residents live independently and don’t receive help with things like meals/medication/bathing.

Affinity Communities: An affinity community, sometimes referred to by the very unsexy name LORC (Lifestyle Oriented Retirement Community), is an age-restricted community built around a certain interest or group. For example, there are affinity communities for military retirees, golfers, firefighters, actors, LGBT adults, and those interested in lifelong learning.

Subsidized Senior Housing: The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides subsidies for low-income seniors, sometimes in particular housing complexes/communities. You can learn more here.

Assisted Living Communities: Assisted living communities provide residents with additional services such as help with bathing and housekeeping. They also sometimes include on-site access to medical professionals. One way to think of them is as lying somewhere between a standard age-restricted community (which may not offer any services to help with day-to-day life) and a nursing home (which usually has a medical staff and is prepared to handle serious illnesses).

CCRCs (Continuing Care Retirement Communities): A CCRC usually offers a bit of everything. They usually have options for independent living, assisted living, and nursing care — allowing retirees to age without having to move from community to community. Also, there are often a range of different housing options, from individual homes/apartments to more communal spaces.

Photo by ljguitar via Flickr.