Independent Senior Living vs. Retirement Villages

Independent senior living couple on bicycleIndependent senior living facilities and retirement villages share a number of benefits such as helping elders maintain an independent lifestyle, increasing social opportunities and decreasing home maintenance hassles.

The main differences between the two relate to location. Individuals move toan independent living residence. Following the model developed by Boston’s Beacon Hill Village started in 2001, retirement villages aspire to help people age in place intheir own homes and neighborhood communities.

A New Option for Independent Senior Living

According to Vickie Epstein, director of Avenidas Village in San Francisco, in late fall 2010 about 57 villages were operational and hundreds more were in the making around the country. Initiated in October 2007, Avenidas is the oldest village on the West Coast and currently serves about 300 members in 10 neighborhoods, including Palo Alto, Stanford and Menlo Park.

Epstein, age 63, notes that the village concept serves as one of the latest independent senior living options because it helps individuals remain in their homes longer. “The village is a transitional alternative for people, which provides the support services that help them stay in their homes for several more years.”

What To Expect

Similar to many independent senior living facilities, retirement villages require membership fees. Senior apartment or condominium communities often require an initiation fee as well as fees that can range from $2,000 to $4,000 per month.

In contrast, those living in a village pay an annual membership fee, which covers administrative services, but no other fees. People live in single-family homes, many of which have low or already paid-off mortgages. Of course, they are responsible for costs incurred by service providers.

By way of example, Avenidas’ annual membership of $825 per person ($1,050 for a two-person household) offers members access to about 180 vetted service providers, a volunteer corps of helpers and a full range of social activities.

Costs are kept to a minimum by capitalizing on members helping members. These are neighborhood volunteers who help seniors with a full range of activities from daily phone calls and gardening to transportation to and from surgeries.

Extending Independence

Mike Ullmann, one of the founders of Northeast Seattle Together (NEST), projects that this new retirement village will be open for membership sometime in 2011. Utilizing the Beacon Hill model and information disseminated by the Village-to-Village Network, NEST aims to help people in 14 Seattle neighborhoods. Its annual fees are projected to run $600 for singles and $900 for couples.

Similar to independent senior living residences, retirement villages like NEST and Avenidas, observes Ullmann, are focused on independence. However, he sees the village model as offering such huge cost benefits that the two are hard to compare.

The 57-year-old says his family is currently feeling the financial squeeze of aging. In the past few months, his mother moved to an assisted living residence that runs $3,000 per month and his mother-in-law moved into a family home that costs $4,000 per month. He notes, “If these two women had lived in villages, they could have lived at home lots longer.”

Evoking a Sense of Community

Both independent senior living and retirement villages excel at helping residents and members enjoy an active social life. Many independent living communities provide calendars overflowing with activities and wellness programs. Similarly, villages offer equally full and creative social menus. One of the differences, however, is that in the villages, many of the activities are instigated by the members themselves.

Epstein notes that one of the cornerstones of Avenidas’ social programming is their use of neighborhood clusters in which members in various neighborhoods get together to socialize over coffee or a potluck to plan activities. As a result, local groups of about 30 members develop strong ties to one another and initiate fun and meaningful activities such as neighborhood walks and volunteer projects.

Of course, the major contrast between independent senior living residences and retirement villages transcends the cost difference says Ullmann, “People get to stay in their own home and in their own neighborhood for as long as possible.”

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Written by senior housing writer Leslee Jaquette.

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