Senior citizens and baby boomers are very fortunate these days because there have never been so many different types of housing for the elderly population and for those just entering that phase of their lives.
What are today’s housing options for seniors? – There are 10 different types of housing options for older adults (seniors and elderly) which include:
- granny pods
- active adult communities
- tiny home retirement communities
- rv retirement communities
- senior villages
- senior co-housing
- residential care homes
- assisted living
- continuing care communities
- and nursing homes
All of these options have pros and cons and not all are available in all locations. For example, the option of “senior villages” is not yet as widespread and popular as residential care homes so there are fewer villages throughout the world.
But, that may change as time goes on!
With so many senior living options to consider, it’s important to know what each one offers to help you make the best decision for your own lifestyle. Here’s a simple chart to lay out the basics on these different types of housing options for aging adults.
- Granny Pods – These are also known as Backyard Bungalows or Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs). They could be a smaller home, a tiny house or modular type of building built in a backyard or side yard of an existing private home.
- Active Adult Communities – These communities can be made up of single-family homes, senior apartments, town homes and condominiums or they can include just one or two of these types of buildings. They are meant to be senior friendly and restrict the age group (55+ years of age) who can own a home and live there.
- Tiny Home Retirement Communities – The tiny home movement has gone beyond the Granny Pod in the backyard and has moved on to entire villages dedicated to tiny homes specifically for older residents.
- RV Retirement Communities – This is what “tiny home living” used to be! There are many retirees these days who have sold their homes to spend their retirement years traveling the country (and sometimes other countries). Some of these have settled on a specific area and they join an RV retirement community filled with these modern day gypsies.
- Senior Villages – The senior remains in the comfort of their own home but they join a local group made up of other homeowners. Everyone pays a membership fee and help each other. Each senior village pays for a staff which is chosen by the group and village members and others can volunteer their services for all members of the village.
- Senior Co-Housing – A community of a mixed variety of homes, townhouses, etc. which all share common grounds. There is a common building that usually houses a kitchen, gym, library, etc. Residents share gardens and backyard space – meals and other activities that they choose as a group. Very similar to communal living.
- Residential Care Homes – Residential care homes are perfect for any senior or elderly person who needs just a little bit of help with activities of daily living such as bathing, dressing, toileting, etc. It’s very similar to an assisted living facility except there is no skilled nursing available and there’s no special care for someone with dementia.
- Assisted Living (ALF) – Assisted living facilities are intended for older people who require some assistance with their ADL’s (activities of daily living) but can still live alone in an apartment setting. Normally, the type of assistance they require is for bathing, dressing and meals. Many adults that require some type of long term care services opt for an ALF.
- Continuing Care Communities (CCRCs) – Continuing care communities look very much like assisted living except that they are intended to house you for the remainder of your life. They provide multiple levels of care. You begin in an apartment or townhome, and if needed you can then move on to an assisted living building and again, if needed you can then move on to a nursing home building – all without ever leaving the very same community. Again, another option for a long term care type of housing.
- Nursing Homes – For elderly who have expanded care needs but don’t need to be in a hospital – nursing homes are the appropriate place to be. Skilled nursing is provided 24/7 along with medical monitoring and treatments (medical and rehabilitative) as needed. Nursing homes are what most individuals think of when they consider long-term senior care. Paying for this though can be expensive.
As you can tell, some of these options are meant for older adults who intend to age in place, other options are more geared towards retirement communities and care homes.
All of these senior housing options have their pros and cons – the idea is to find the type of housing that works best for you and/or your senior loved ones. So, let’s go over the pros and cons of each one of these.
1) Granny Pods
It seems that Granny Pods and backyard bungalows have begun to take over the market!
Growth in the sector has been fueled by changes to local and state zoning rules. Some municipalities are struggling with a lack of affordable housing and see these additional units as one remedy.CNBC.com
For seniors, it’s a great way to live close to family members but still be in their own home.
Adult children are building tiny homes in the backyard for their elderly parent(s) and it can work out very well. Everyone has their own living space and independence, yet everyone is close enough to help each other when and if needed.
The Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is a great example of a tiny house you can get through Amazon. It is 540 square feet and retails for about $34,000 (in 2019). Plus, you might even be able to get free shipping!
- Customizable – because most Granny Pods are built from scratch they can be customized to meet the specific needs of whomever will be inhabiting them. This could include things like grab bars where you need them, non slip flooring, alert systems built into the home, etc.
- Close to family – you can’t get any closer to family or friends except if you lived in their homes with them. Living in your own dwelling in the back or side yard is extremely close! Great for when and if you need them and for when they need you!
- No problem with pets – some of the other housing options mentioned in this article will have restrictions on pets. Either the number of pets you can own or if you can own any at all. There should be no issues bringing your own pets to a granny pod.
- Can be expensive – building an entire new home (even though they are usually smaller) is not inexpensive if you have a builder do it. Some families are pitching in and building their own tiny homes like this one from Amazon. Allwood Timberline | 483 SQF Cabin Kit
- In home care services must be considered – whenever a senior decides to age in place it’s important to consider the cost of in home care if and when such services are needed.
- Possible upgrades to electrical and plumbing – there may need to be upgrades made to existing electrical and plumbing to the current home in order to accommodate the new building in the yard.
- Zoning issues – although many communities across the country are allowing ADU’s – it’s not a guarantee that they are allowed in your specific location. Check with your city’s zoning board before you make any purchases and/or plans.
2) Active Adult Communities (aka Retirement Villages)
Active adult communities are the 55+ communities that many of us are familiar with. I lived in South Florida for 25 years and down there, it seems there are many of these types of communities scattered around town.
As the name implies, active senior communities are for those who want (and are capable of having) an independent lifestyle. There are no support services provided, although there are usually medical professionals and personal care services nearby. Transportation services aren’t typically provided either.
Below is a list of the general pros and cons of living in an active adult community (please know that every community is different).
- Amenities – most seniors choose this type of community based on the amenities it provides. Things like a clubhouse, tennis courts, swimming pools, entertainment, social clubs, golf course, etc. Choose your community based on the list of activities you would like to participate in.
- NO KIDS – for many seniors, this means quiet streets and a very decreased chance of your front lawn getting wrapped up in toilet paper on Halloween!
- Age Appropriate Neighbors – when you’re 65 years old and your neighbors are 25 – it’s not going to be easy to find things in common. But when your neighbors are much closer to your own age group – you can instantly make friends that are close by!
- Maintaining Your Property – depending on the type of housing you live in – your home maintenance responsibilities can certainly be reduced. I personally live in a single family cluster home which means I have a small yard around my home but I don’t have to mow it or trim the bushes or trees. Townhomes in my community don’t have to pay for roof repair updates and painting (outside). Having these issues taken care of for you goes a long way to making your senior years much easier to manage.
- HOA Restrictions – if you have never lived under an HOA (Home Owners Association) then it may be very difficult to adjust to the idea of having to run every idea / plan that you may want to implement in your home through a group of HOA board members for approval. Each community has their own HOA set of guidelines. I urge you before you purchase your home in an active adult community to become familiar with what is and what is not allowed in that community.
- Monthly HOA Dues Can Be High – there are some 55+ communities with monthly HOA fees as high as $700.00 and some even higher! This can be very prohibitive for many seniors. But know that there are many with lower fees – you just have to do your research!
- Homes are smaller – so downsizing is a must in most 55+ homes. Honestly, I don’t think this is necessarily a con (in fact I would consider it a Pro) but I am the exception. I know that for many of my elderly friends and relatives, the idea of downsizing and getting rid of their things is just horrifying.
- Home care services – for some, the cost of having nursing care or home health services is beyond their budget so anytime you or a senior loved one is considering aging in place – these costs must be taken into consideration.
The best advice that I can give you is to choose a retirement village that offers you the type of activities that you would enjoy doing along with the type of residents that you may feel most connected with. After all, if you’re a very conservative type of person, it may be difficult for you to integrate in a community full of hippy liberals (and vice versa).
I only mention this because I know two senior friends who made this very same mistake and ended up moving not once, but twice to find the right type of community for themselves. So, do your homework!
Many retirement villages offer an apartment or home that you can rent for a week or so to help you decide if that community is a good fit for you.
3) Tiny Home Retirement Communities (including mobile homes)
Tiny homes seem to have taken over and for many who have accepted the challenge to live full time in a tiny home – there are pros and cons, of course. But for those who love the concept but are wanting to stay put, at least for a little while – they can put down stakes in a community that caters to tiny homes.
Also note that the idea of tiny homes conjures up the notion that they are on wheels (like recreational vehicles) but these days, there are communities throughout the world that are creating permanent tiny homes to live in. So, in case you are not fond of traveling (like me) – then these may be ideal for you.
Tiny homes also include the more traditional “mobile homes” which are essentially manufactured mobile homes whereas tiny homes are custom built mobile homes.
Here in the United States there are multiple tiny home villages / communities and more are popping up but here’s a list from the Tiny Home Industry Association to get you started.
Tiny Homes Rescue: For Dwellers And Rescue Cats And Dogs (near Dallas / Fort Worth) – this is a very unique concept – check it out!
Here are some pros and cons to living in a tiny home retirement community.
- You stay in your own home -you have your own home but you have the opportunity (if it’s mobile) to travel as well.
- Much easier to maintain – most tiny home owners will tell you that the amount of time it takes to keep their homes clean is extremely minimal (usually less than 1 hour to clean the entire place from top to bottom.
- Usually costs less – depending on what you are moving from and what type of land you are settling on – costs for tiny home living are on average much, much less than the costs to run and maintain a traditional home.
- Compost toilets – most tiny homes are equipped with a compost toilet which means there is a certain amount of maintenance that most individuals are not used to. Also, it’s more manual labor than some seniors are able to do.
- Very little storage – personally, I do believe in decluttering your home almost to the point of minimalism only because I have found that freeing myself from “stuff” has helped me tremendously. But, I do recognize that for many others – this is not an option. There is very little storage in a tiny home so you either would have to get rid of your items that you don’t use frequently OR you would have to pay for a storage unit for these things.
- Entertaining may be difficult – you certainly won’t be able to hold large parties in these types of homes – even entertaining another couple may prove to be difficult.
4) RV Retirement Communities
Very much like tiny home communities – the RV (Recreational Vehicles) retirement communities would hold the same types of pros and cons. The difference between these two would be that there are tiny home communities where the homes are not mobile.
Naturally, all RV retirement communities do have mobile homes so your neighbors could come and go.
Generally speaking, I have known some people who are full time RV’ers and they absolutely love the lifestyle. I don’t think it’s for everyone – but for those who have a gypsy heart and love the idea of living in multiple areas throughout the year – this is a great option!
5) Senior Villages
You may not have heard of senior villages and that’s fine, it’s a fairly new concept. It’s a wonderful idea to help seniors age in place with support.
When Susan McWhinney-Morse was preparing to retire, the then-65-year-old Bostonian couldn’t imagine leaving her home. But she didn’t want to burden her family with having to check up on her.Bloomberg
The concept is worked on by the neighbors involved as well as a small staff and volunteers. It’s an interesting model that has grown since it’s inception. Currently, the Village to Village Network is a nonprofit organization that can help you to organize your own village, to find a village and generally all information about villages.
An example of a village is the Capital City Village in Austin, Tx. You can look through their website to get an idea of how it works.
- You stay in your own home – the biggest advantage of this concept is that you get to stay in your own home, amongst your neighbors and friends.
- Help is available – each village member contributes to the “group fund” to help pay for their staff which could include a carpenter, physical therapist, nurse, etc. The group decides what is needed.
- Cost – there is a monthly fee but it’s normally very nominal.
- Staying in your own home may not be the safest option – depending on the condition of your home, the amount of money it takes to maintain your home and if modifications are needed to make the home safe – the idea of staying in your home may not be the best solution for you.
- Home health care services – again, as with the other options listed above. Consideration must be made to the expenses related to in home nursing care or home health aides if they were to be needed.
6) Senior Co-Housing
The senior co-housing option reminds me of the hippie communes from the 1960’s (yes, I remember those!). A group of people share a common kitchen area and recreational areas yet they have their own “home”. It’s a great way to remain social in your own community and to help each other as needed.
- Plenty of social opportunities – co-housing communities are generally chosen by their residents because they ARE so socially active. You create and share meals together. Recreational activities are normally done together.
- Built in help is available – having others around you can be a big help to you emotionally and physically. Elderly women living alone can benefit from having other women and/or men to help them with home repair or maintenance and other tasks that may be difficult for them.
- Everyone contributes their skills – it may be that you can no longer drive – well someone in the group may still be driving and that is a big help. Every person in the co-housing group contributes their skills as best they can to the group.
- Shared expenses – some co-housing communities share the expenses to run and maintain the home and the lifestyle.
- Not everyone gets along – let’s face it, not everyone gets along with everyone. So, there may be others in the co-housing group that you simply cannot stand to be with (and vice versa). If possible – spend a week or two at a co-housing location before you move into one.
- You become part of a team – if you have lived on your own for many years, suddenly having to commune with others daily may be very difficult. If you are a lone wolf personality, a senior co-housing situation would not work well for you.
- In home care services – aging in place in a home of any kind that is not equipped to manage health related issues requires it’s residents to consider the expenses that would be related to obtaining these services vs. the cost of a care facility.
7) Residential Care Homes
Residential care homes remind me somewhat of boarding houses. They are usually larger homes with a few bedrooms (could be any number but normally less than 10). There’s a small staff, common kitchen, dining and living areas.
These are usually private homes (or at least once were) that have been converted to care for seniors.
- Friendlier and Personalized – Because it’s a small staff, it’s much more personalized and can be friendlier than a larger assisted living facility.
- Meals and housekeeping – Meals and housekeeping services are generally provided.
- Shared bathrooms – Not all residential care homes have private bathrooms so there may be some sharing involved.
- Not all are alike – Some residential care homes will provide assistance for bathing, dressing, etc. Others will not and the resident will have to pay for their own private aide.
- No medical staff – Most residential care homes do not staff a physician or nurse so there is no direct medical supervision. Again, consideration should be made to the possible expenses of a home health care aide or if nursing care were needed.
- Private pay – These types of living situations generally do not accept medicare or medicaid – they are mostly paid privately by the residents and/or their families.
8) Assisted Living Facilities
Assisted living facilities normally provide two meals a day and the apartments come with a small kitchen which gives the resident the ability to have some groceries to snack on or make a small meal for themselves.
But, like any living situation, there are pros and cons and here’s my list of what they are for assisted living housing.
- Still live independently – it’s nice to have your very own apartment even though you may need a little help every day. Assisted living gives you that.
- In house meals – most (if not all) assisted living facilities provide 2 meals a day in the dining room and some will even bring the meal to your room. Depending on the accommodations, it can be a very nice experience to go to the dining room and sit with others to enjoy a meal prepared for you.
- In house activities – again, most (if not all) assisted living have a recreational therapist who provides a series of activities in house and some even provide outside events such as concerts and theater.
- You can still drive – some assisted living allow you to keep your car in the parking lot. So if you are still capable of being safe while driving and want to keep your car, then you can certainly do that.
- Cost prohibitive – the very first con that I must mention is the cost. This does vary depending on where you live but generally, the cost averages about $4000.00 per month. You can get an idea of the cost in your area using the calculator at Genworth.com
- Living under policies and rules – very much like an HOA in the 55+ communities, there will be rules and policies that you will have to live under and for some seniors, that can be difficult.
- Will be living within close proximity of others – I have known a few elderly (my mother for one!) who was very much a “loner” and really did not want to engage with other humans, at all. For her, living in an assisted living (which we wanted her to do) was akin to going to prison (yes, she said that). So, if you or your senior loved one is the type of person that does not want to live amongst other humans, this type of living arrangement may become very difficult for them.
- Pets may be a problem – not all assisted living facilities allow pets so if you own a pet, choosing the right facility that will allow you to keep it or them is very important. Here is a short list of some facilities that do accept pets.
9) Continuing Care Communities (CCRCs)
Continuing care communities are generally expensive but if you can afford them, it’s an easy living situation to retire into as you grow older. Reason being that they provide multiple levels of care for their residents.
The idea is that you purchase a membership into a community. If you are capable of living on your own, you can then live in an apartment or villa within the community. If your health declines (physically or cognitively) you can then progress into an apartment in an assisted living facility (still, within the same community). If your health declines even further, you can then move on to the nursing home building that is also within the same community.
It’s a great option for seniors who want to live independently as long as possible and remain within the same community for the remainder of their lives.
- All inclusive – very much like all inclusive resorts – everything is here for you and you never have to leave the community, no matter how your health progresses. You simply are moved from one type of housing to another as and if needed, again, without every leaving the community.
- Couples stay close together – if one spouse ends up needing nursing home care while the other spouse is able to live in an assisted living facility, going to visit is extremely easy since you are both in the same community.
- No kids – because the age group in CCRCs are mostly seniors (with the exception of the staff) you will be living with many others in your age group. This can be a pro or a con, depending on you.
- Expensive – Entrance fees to a CCRC range from about $107,000 to $427,000. (mylifesite.net) The cost depends on the type of contract that you purchase, additional services, amenities, etc.
- Adjusting to new living quarters – if your health declines in such a way that you have to move from an independent living to an assisted and then on to a nursing home – then you end up moving several times. This can be difficult for some.
- All your eggs in one basket – moving into a CCRC means you are essentially putting all your eggs in one basket. Like any organization, management and ownership can change, companies go out of business, etc. You could potentially lose your investment if the company goes bankrupt.
- Pets may be a problem – not all assisted living facilities allow pets so if you own a pet, choosing the right facility that will allow you to keep it or them is very important.
10) Nursing Homes
Nursing homes are what most of us are familiar with when we think of senior residential living – but the truth is that only a small percentage of elderly in the USA actually reside in nursing facilities.
Only 4.5 percent (about 1.5 million) of older adults live in nursing homes and 2 percent (1 million) in assisted living facilities.NCBI.com
Below is a list of the pros and cons of residing in a nursing home setting.
- Full time care available – there is always a nurse available, nursing assistants and doctors are always on call. Your medications are managed for you, care is provided for you that includes bathing, dressing, toileting, feeding, etc.
- Structured schedules – most nursing homes have a set structure of what happens when and where. There are physical, occupational, speech and recreational therapists available for when you need them. Activities are scheduled as are meals and dispensing of medications.
- Social interaction – most (if not all) nursing homes have scheduled social activities Games, movies, entertainment, etc. You would be included in a group setting with your fellow residents.
- Expensive – nursing homes can be expensive, depending on the home itself. On average, the monthly cost of a nursing home room in the USA is $8,121 for a private room and about $7,148 for a semi-private room. (retirementliving.com)
- Poor care – I have worked in some nursing homes where the care was horrible so I know first hand that not all nursing homes provide a good level of care for their residents. (But I have worked in more nursing homes that were wonderful so although I hope that it is a minority of homes that are poorly run – please be aware that not all are equal).
- No freedom for residents – nursing homes are responsible for your well being. As a result, they will monitor where you are at all times, have scheduled activities for you, meals, bathing, dressing, etc. are all set up on the schedule of the nursing home, not your schedule. So, if you are accustomed to getting up every day at 10:00 am – this may not work well in a nursing home setting.
- Frailty of others – it may be very difficult for some residents to live amongst others who are extremely physically frail. Walking down a hallway where several residents are moaning or sitting slouched over in their wheelchairs can be very depressing to some.
- Odor – some nursing homes have a distinct odor or urine and/or a very strong bleach smell to try to cover up that urine smell. These are usually very poorly run facilities but they may also be the cheaper ones as well.
- Pets may be a problem – not all assisted living facilities allow pets so if you own a pet, choosing the right facility that will allow you to keep it or them is very important.
Nursing homes have changed in the last few decades and some are certainly better than others – but the point here is that there are multiple options available for seniors today when it comes to where they can live happily and safely.