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Retirees : Pros, Cons of Adults-Only Life Styles

May 04, 1986|RAY KOVITZ | Special to The Times and Kovitz is a Mission Viejo free-lance writer. and

Jeff Rice, 82, of Leisure World, Laguna Hills, has lived in that retirement community for 18 years. He wouldn't live anywhere else, he says.

"I have everything I need or want right here," Rice said while he sold candy for a Kiwanis Club project outside a supermarket.

"With all the activities, I never get tired of things," he declared. Not only are there clubs of every description, but a community bus system takes Rice to the doctor, movies or market.

Rice's enthusiastic comments raise an important issue. Are retirement communities happy paradises or, as they have been called, "elephant graveyards," where the elderly are shunted off to live out their remaining years?

Matter of Choice

To find some answers, gerontology experts, retirement community residents and real estate authorities were interviewed for this article, in addition to a review of current literature on the subject.

The general conclusion was that living in an adult retirement community is a matter of personal choices.

"For those who need it, it serves a worthwhile purpose," Margaret Huang, Saddleback College gerontology instructor, said. "For them, it is an ideal way of life."

For others, it may turn into an all too-sequestered world.

"There is no one single solution to the housing problem for the older adult," Karen Rook, UC Irvine professor of social ecology, said.

Not Cut Off From Society

"We may have gone too far in criticizing these communities. Although people may elect to live in one, it is simply not the case that they are cut off from the rest of society. They still have frequent contact with their children, grandchildren and friends. Volunteer participation also keeps many busy."

It is estimated that the nation now has about 2,400 adults-only communities, from the 45,000 population in Sun City, Ariz., to 22,000 residents in Leisure World, to only 20 units in a Sarasota, Fla., mobile-home park.

Notable retirement communities in Southern California include the Leisure Villages in Camarillo and Vista, Hemet's Sun City, Leisure World, the Landmark developments in La Mirada and Huntington Beach; Casta del Sol in Mission Viejo, and portions of Rancho Bernardo and Lake San Marcos. Their popularity is tied to climate and life style.

Studies found that most of the residents are white, conservative, upper middle-class--even wealthy. They also are healthier and better educated that their counterparts elsewhere.

Few minorities are found among the homeowners because most minorities cannot afford the costs, nor do they feel comfortable in an alien atmosphere.

The marketing department of Sun City said it was also difficult to lure the foreign born to Arizona "apparently because they still maintain the custom of having old people remain with their families."

What is it that attracts retirees to such communities? A good reason is that developers have studied the market and made the environment as appealing as possible with swimming pools, craft shops, golf courses, libraries, meeting rooms and other amenities.

For example, the Leisure Village clubhouse at Vista would be the envy of any country club.

Increased Property Values

"Retirement communities also seem to offer the greatest possibility for an increase in property values," according to authors Leland F. and Lee Morrison Cooley ("How to Avoid the Retirement Trap"). A check with the resales office at Leisure World, Laguna Hills, disclosed that cooperative apartments that sold for $10,000 in 1967, now go for $40,000 or more; condos that were $20,000 in 1968, are now $75,000 to $80,000. Luxury villas are as high as $350,000.

However, the single most important feature that the elderly seem to insist on is security. Residents who move from major metropolitan areas are almost paranoid about security. Most retirement communities are either gate guarded, maintain a roving patrol, or both.

Viola Hoffman of Leisure World, originally from Illinois, says she feels protected and is able to go anywhere in the community without fear. Jack Lowell of Casta del Sol, Mission Viejo, who travels widely in his motor home, says he can leave for weeks without worrying about a break-in or vandalism in his house. "That's a big plus in my book," he said.

Another big plus is that after a lifetime of family and household chores, retirees have chucked those burdens. For their monthly homeowner fee, the management takes care of the gardening, pool maintenance, guard service, trash collection and insurance.

'We Pay a Price'

Meanwhile, residents are free to pursue new interests and make new friends. Many adult-community residents are still gainfully employed. "After all," one longtime engineer asked, "how much golf can I play?"

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