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Thursday, May 19, 2022

The “Affinity Communities” Trend is Set to Explode for Over-60s

Tapping into a common human desire to form friendships with people having similar interests, outlooks, or backgrounds, affinity senior communities attract like-minded older adults from across the country.  

It is not just golf courses that unite older adults within a housing community these days. The trend is taking off for dog lovers, LGBTQ people, travel buffs, and many more subsets. Some have been in operation for decades, but many are new to the concept and expanding the definition of what an “affinity community” can be. 

Many existing communities exemplify the trend, although they may not feature a formalized care component. Older Asian Americans can take advantage of the assisted living community at Aegis Gardens in Fremont, CA. Retired musicians, actors, writers, and artists (or those who wish they had been) can find an apartment at the Burbank Senior Arts Colony in Los Angeles. Summertown, TN offers cabins for nature enthusiasts at Rocinante. Retired letter carriers even have their own gathering place at Nalcrest in Central Florida. 

Finding Your Own Niche Community

You may be wondering how to go about finding your own affinity community. One way is to simply do an online search. There is a senior living provider that has trademarked “Affinity,” so be sure to double-check search results. 

Another avenue is the Private Communities Registry (PCR) website. You can input a state or country and filter amenities to find results. Looking for a community with a dog park in Georgia? Housing with fishing in Montana? PCR can match you up. Be aware that these are master-planned communities and may include all ages or lack assisted living facilities, etc. Still, this is a great place to start looking for an inclusive new home.

University Communities

Intellectual stimulation and cultural opportunities are available at university-based retirement communities (UBRCs). These are located on or near college campuses, allowing residents to audit courses or participate in research. There are more than 50, and can be found at universities like Penn State, Dartmouth, Stanford, Cornell, and Notre Dame. Most also offer skilled nursing care.

One UBRC is Kendal at Ithaca, near Ithaca College and Cornell University in upstate New York. Residents interact with college students on a variety of projects. When the three dining areas needed a redesign, students executing the project built full-size models and made videos so residents could provide input. Kendal at Ithaca is also a study center for aging and memory. 

"Cornell has realized that we're a living laboratory for studies in aging, so our residents get interviewed, and we're constantly fielding proposals from graduate students for research projects," says Betsy Schermerhorn, Director of Marketing and Admissions for Kendal at Ithaca.

"It's good for us because it helps residents keep up-to-date with the university," says resident and former Cornell administrator and professor Cindy Noble, "and it's good for Cornell because it keeps them in contact with former faculty and alums, many of whom are loyal donors.”
You don’t have to be affiliated with Ithaca or Cornell (or any college or university) to join Kendal at Ithaca, however. Many are attracted by the winding trails, creative arts studio, library, and dog play area. The winemaking group sets up tastings in Kendal’s wine cellar, and there’s a local theater.

Endless Options

About 200 to 300 residents are needed for a thriving retirement community. That’s a fairly low bar for entry, especially since these communities generally allow anyone access. That makes for more diverse options. Yes, there really is a community specifically for Jimmy Buffett enthusiasts at the Latitude Margaritaville in Hilton Head, FL. Go to Rainbow’s End in Livingston, TX to gather with other RV owners and find assisted living options as well as respite care. 

People born in another country may find comfort in one of the many communities geared toward specific ethnicities. Native American, Hispanic, and Greek American senior communities are some of the most popular around Chicago, while some in California cater to Japanese Americans and Chinese Americans. Residents can speak their native language, celebrate native holidays as well as those of their adopted country, and eat familiar foods together.

Affinity communities may be particularly attractive for groups that may otherwise feel marginalized. After moving to the LGBTQ community Rainbow Vision in Santa Fe, NM, resident Patrick Russell, a retired university administrator, finally felt understood and at home. 

"I'd never been at a place where I was in the majority," says Russell of Rainbow Vision. "It's become so matter-of-fact here that I forget that being a gay person is the least bit unusual.” There is a cabaret and lounge on the property that is open to the public, offering entertainment to go with the award-winning restaurant and fitness center. 

Various affinity community residents report that these communities seem to function well because friendships are more easily formed among people who share a mindset, vision, or even a hobby. As more and more baby boomers retire, this living trend will doubtless expand.