Community planners turn to life-care issues

What lies ahead for the retiree who seeks permanent housing in the traditional sunlit horizons of tropical Florida? ''We're advancing into a new era where life-style communities for active, retired adults must also plan for their less active years,'' says George Bergmann, president of Village Communities Inc., which sold more than 7,000 condominium units at Florida's largest retiree-oriented community, Century Village at Deerfield Beach.

''Now, we examine site plans not only to build activity centers, but specialized facilities'' designed for those older Americans who are less active.

The ''life-style community'' with exorbitantly appointed clubhouse recreational facilities (catering to every whim from duplicate bridge to bicycling) is still a viable product on the Florida landscape, but development for the retiree of the 1980s is becoming more concerned for problems of the aging. Now there are new terminologies for adult-retiree living, such as ''independent-living center'' and ''life-care community.''

To some extent, these communities are the outgrowth of concepts only recently addressed by such builders as Robert W. Jahn, national chairman of the Fifty-Plus Committee of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

''We have overlooked the segmentation of the retiree markets,'' he says. ''We need to build specifically for the needs of the 50- to 65-year-old active adults ,'' as well as those who are older.

To Mr. Jahn's credit, the Fifty-Plus committee will study new development concepts during the spring NAHB meeting, establishing marketing goals, educational materials, and recommended building practices for retiree developments adjusted to the 50-65, 65-75, and 75-and-over adult requirements.

''We're not just talking about putting a hold bar in the bathroom tub tiling, '' says Mr. Jahn, whose new 163-acre community, Eaglewood at Hobe Sound on Florida's east coast, is planned just for residents over 50.

''The criteria extends from site planning through shelter to amenities, planned for each age group. A retired couple has vastly different requirements than a young couple planning a family. That means a different set of appliances, more attention to lighting, even building 3-foot-wide doors.''

The Fifty-Plus Committee includes a cross section of developers, marketing specialists, publishers of retirement magazines, and institutional advisers of the aged, all of whom will help the nation's builders determine exactly what the older adult wants in new housing.

Somewhat ironically, the aging population of the United States is a growing market. Recent US census data indicates the number of individuals 55 and over will grow from its current 47 million to nearly 60 million by the year 2000 - and by then, those 65 and over will represent 1 in every 8 Americans.

The older population wields extensive economic clout, according to a survey by the National Association of Mature People, which showed those who are 55 and over control 80 percent of the savings and loan deposits in the US.

H. Wilson Worley, president of US Retirement Corporation and a veteran community developer, authored ''Retirement Living Alternatives USA'' (Columbia House Publishing Corporation), his own story of what lies ahead for retiree housing.

Leonard Miller, president of the Florida Home Builders Association, sees ''a resurgence of the adult purchaser coming into Florida, the influx of these retirees broadening into all coastal regions: the gulf coast, above and below Tampa-St. Petersburg; the ''sun coast'' from the Palm Beaches north to Daytona Beach; and in central Florda, primarily in the Orlando area.''

Mr. Miller points to the ''stability of the economy in these growth areas of Florida; there are older people who still want to continue working. In response, more Florida builders are developing specific communities with features that combine traditional life-style amenities as well as planning ahead for their full-retirement life.''

With basic pricing for adult condominiums starting from about $35,000 to near leases'' rather than outright purchase. One Delray Beach community asks a one-time payment of $140,000 to $400,000, refundable if the resident moves or paid to the estate; in addition, the resident pays a monthly fee of about $800 for services.

''Florida began selling under tents in the '20s,'' Bergmann adds.

''Through six decades, we have established lifetime longevity as a benefit of its climate; tomorrow's housing must also deal with the realities of the aged and their problems.''

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