• U.S.

The Home: New Lease on Life

5 minute read


First, there was the “retirement community” — invented six years ago when the Federal Housing Administration first offered special financing for housing projects designed for the elderly.

The developers’ idea was that the old wanted a place in the sun, and large tracts of desert and seaside bloomed with the new “villages.” The sign on the gate said, “No children, no dogs”; there were shuffleboard courts, hobby shops, a bingo game every evening, and to many an oldster, it seemed as close to heaven as they cared to get. But there were other oldsters who viewed with dismay the thought of living out their remaining years in a ghetto of the aged, however comfortable its appointments or however lush its garden plots. In stead of putting themselves out to pasture, they preferred to remain in the hurly-burly of the megalopolis, where they could be close to kin and culture.

Result is the high-rise retirement apartment, and across the U.S. they are appearing in increasing numbers in major communities. The advantages are multiple. The downtown developer still gets all the financial help offered tract developers. And the retired have a home that is within walking distance of downtown, to which they can invite old friends for cocktails, or children and grandchildren for dinner. Unless they look hard, visitors do not even notice the necessary modifications—doors wide enough for wheelchairs, grab bars in the bathtub, raised electrical sockets (to save stooping), and panic buttons for emergencies. To the tenants, the best aspect of the new “sunset skyscrapers” is the assurance that the panic button will always bring prompt, professional aid. All the new buildings either have their own infirmaries and medical clinics or have special arrangements with a nearby hospital.

High Living, Low Rents. There are all the usual extras—solaria, cardrooms, libraries, and organized entertainments. But there is less pressure to use them, for hundreds of other sources of entertainment wait just beyond the front door. The rents are surprisingly low, because the new buildings are sponsored by local governments or non-profit organizations.

In downtown Providence, R.I., for instance, the city housing authority constructed the eleven-story Dexter Manor for elderly people with incomes of less than $3,300 a year. The rent is a modest $43 a month for an efficiency unit, and there are now three people wait-listed for every occupancy. A similar building that will be completed in May is already oversubscribed by 470. Says Housing Authority Executive Director Joseph Lyons: “Older people like to see kids fighting in the streets and traffic moving. I was offered a beautiful site three miles from town and near a golf course. I turned it down. Who wants to live out there?”

Three Choices. Most of the new apartments are more expensive. A brief bus ride from downtown Denver, atop a landscaped hill, the six-story Park Manor offers living-bedroom units with lifetime leases ranging from $6,700 to $8,000, with an additional service charge of $150 a month. This includes three multiple-choice meals a day, on the assumption that the aging would rather not cook most meals for them selves (though the building does offer two small kitchens for those who like to whip up an occasional cake for visiting grandchildren). There is also a coffee shop that starts to perk at 6:30 a.m. (the old wake early).

Busy Lives. The showplaces for energy and opulence are the retirement buildings that dot the West Coast. The Park Shore in Seattle, one of nine such buildings designed by Architectural Planning Firm John Graham & Co. and financed by FHA, sits right on the edge of Lake Washington, commands a beautiful view of Mount Rainier. Besides being a hobbyist’s haven, with a darkroom, an art studio, plus lapidary, carpentry, sewing and weaving shops, the Park Shore has the added attraction of a kind of snob appeal. The brochure blandly states that it is open only to those “who have led busy lives” and that “applicants will be carefully screened by the Admissions Committee to determine physical fitness and compatibility of each client.” If a person fills the bill but cannot pay for it, the Park Shore will put him on a special “scholarship” just to make sure that it gets the people it wants.

Result is that the Park Shore residents are amazingly active. They need the bus so often to go to jobs, plays, movies and even horse races that the transit system agreed to erect a bus shelter outside the building. Comments 69-year-old Arthur Symons, who moved into the Park Shore after selling his own frozen-food company two years ago: “You take on two or three nonpaying jobs and they take up more time than when you were working.”

The new apartments certainly do not solve all the problems of all the aged, but they do put spry senior citizens back where they belong—with all the other citizens.

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