Active Adults – Not Only “Active” But “Activists”

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A growing trend in our industry is the increasing presence of communities developed specifically for folks aged 55 and over. They are commonly known as "active adult" communities.

Several developers are targeting this age group as a major component of their business plans. It makes good sense. The demographics of our country are changing. Our population is aging. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) recently reported that in 2004 one in eight Americans, or 12.4%, were age 65 and over. It is expected that this age group will increase to 20% of Americans by the year 2030. If you look at actual numbers, you can see that 35 million Americans were age 65 and over in 2000. It is projected that this number will increase to 40 million in 2010, and 55 million in 2020 (a 36% increase for the decade 2010 to 2020)!

It doesn't take much foresight to realize that this is a force to be reckoned with. There are serious issues facing the aging population - rising insurance costs, prescription drug coverage, finding good medical facilities, sufficient income, travel restrictions, nursing home and in-home care, and many others. Finding the best place to live certainly ranks among the top concerns.

Retirement

At least fifty percent of the residents in the typical senior living community are retired, and because this segment of our population is generally healthier than previous generations, the developers of successful "active adult" communities are finding that it is not sufficient to just build houses. They need to sell a lifestyle. The community buildings they provide often include, in addition to the traditional meeting rooms, indoor swimming pools, saunas, game rooms, pool tables, craft rooms, spa facilities, and extensive exercise rooms. Those of us who manage this type of community find that our management responsibilities now extend to ensuring that the residents have access to things like water exercise classes, aerobics, tennis lessons, bus trips to interesting events and places, social activities, and seminars on everything from estate planning to travel documentaries.

Also important to this lifestyle are the various elements in the homes they purchase. For the past ten to fifteen years, builders have been offering single-level living and flat lots to reduce the number of stairs that seniors have to negotiate. Recently, they have been incorporating many small changes in their house plans which make a huge difference in every-day activities. The types of improvements can be as simple as lowering kitchen and bathroom counter height and installing helper handles in bathrooms. Communities of this type also offer what is advertised as "maintenance free" living. That means the resident never has to mow his lawn or mulch his flower beds. He needn't worry about shoveling the snow and ice from his sidewalk or driveway. In some cases the maintenance of the exterior of his home is reserved for and taken care of by his homeowners/condominium association.

Healthy and active retirees, however, are not content with sitting at home, or with the physical outlets for their pent-up energy which are provided by the community's amenities. They want to participate and be involved - in their association, and in the community at large.

The one thing that the manager of an active adult community can count on is volunteerism and community interest. This is in stark contrast to the trend seen in most other types of communities, where it is sometimes difficult to find candidates to run for the Board of Directors, or attract enough owners to attain quorum at an annual meeting. Board meetings, and especially annual meetings, are usually well-attended by owners with opinions and comments which they are anxious to share.

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Senior Experience

Golden-agers have a wealth of life experiences, practical employment history and skills, and the time to share their expertise for the benefit of the community. A good utilization of these assets is at the advisory committee level. Examples of the kinds of committees that could be formed are Budget & Finance, Communications, Facilities, Grounds, and Community Relations or Social Committee. These are generally not mandated in the legal documents, but are created at the discretion of the Board of Directors.

As all managers know, committees can be of great assistance and value to both the community and management if they begin with a clear definition of who they are and what their function is. Terms of Reference or Charters that outline the parameters of the committees are very important. There are, however, some simple guidelines to follow in order to get the best out of your volunteer committees:

  • Give them specific tasks. If committee members come to meetings month after month with nothing to do but sit around and talk, they will get bored and attendance at the meetings will dwindle to nothing.
  • Work with them to establish realistic objectives and deadlines as they proceed with their assignments.
  • Keep in touch with them to ensure that their energies and efforts are focused in the right direction.
  • Remind them that they will be making recommendations to the Board, not making decisions.
  • When they have completed an assignment, thank them and give them some public recognition for their work. These are the future leaders of the association and they need to feel appreciated and be encouraged to continue to contribute to the community.

Another result of having fewer demands on their time is the freedom to reach out to other areas of interest to them. Public service projects, local community governmental issues, charity organizations, fraternal organizations - all of these entities benefit from the knowledge, experience, and most importantly, time, offered by retired and semi-retired persons. They are serving as election officials at polling places, tutors, mentors, and teachers' aides in the public schools. Retired accountants are preparing tax returns for other seniors. Retired medical personnel are working in free clinics and at local health fairs. Community groups support various charities by conducting food drives, clothing and toy collections, and contributing to disaster relief efforts.

Becoming active in causes that have an impact on their lives is a common outlet for residents in active-adult communities. For instance, in Virginia , when the local power company came forward with a plan to build a 500 kilovolt power line through some historic sites very near to one of these communities, residents organized quickly and in large numbers, and have begun the battle to preserve what they see as an area of natural beauty and historical significance. This is just one instance, but I'm sure there are many more examples of this kind of dynamic involvement in regional issues.

It is obvious to any manager who works with active-adult communities, that despite the challenges they occasionally present to management, "activist" seniors are an untapped resource of ideas, abilities, and manpower. Let's give them focus, support, and encouragement. And let's put them to work!

 

Source: Association Times
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