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A two-story, three-bedroom, two-bath corner unit at Country Pointe Meadows. The new 450-unit community will occupy one section of a larger mixed-use community with shops, rental apartments, hotels and a park.

Resort-Style Living for Graying Boomers

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

By Marcelle Sussman Fischler, The New York Times

Developed as a place to raise a family, Long Island – like many other suburban areas that grew and thrived in post-World War II America – is graying.

While new communities on the island were built for baby boomers back when they were babies, the latest wave of new development – country club-style living in communities for people 55 and older – hopes to help ease them into their retirement years and beyond.

Age-restricted housing has been around for decades, but until recently “there hadn’t been that focus on creating a lifestyle for aging baby boomers,” said Michael Dubb, founder and chief executive of Beechwood Homes. Many of these suburban homeowners are now empty nesters who no longer need a big house, don’t want to deal with landscaping or snow removal, and want to live with others who are at the same stage in their lives, he said.

Having sold out the 720-unit Meadowbrook Pointe at Westbury earlier this year, Mr. Dubb is now building three more resort-like “active adult lifestyle communities.” The largest, Country Pointe Plainview, will have 750 age-restricted condo flats and townhomes with first-floor master bedrooms.

Prices at the gated community range from $650,000 to $1.3 million. In less than a year, 215 out of 230 units in the first phase sold off floor plans and computer renderings before construction had even started, said Steven Dubb, a principal. The 80-acre property includes an adjacent shopping center, an amenity-laden clubhouse, two heated pools, tennis courts and a walking trail.

Just don’t call it a retirement community. “People are going there to feel young and act young,” Mr. Dubb said.

If you stay in the neighborhood where you raised your children, he said, “young people move in and you are the old people next door.” By contrast, in these new age-restricted developments, “you are not the old people next door — everybody is running around with an iPhone full of pictures of their grandchildren.”

Age is not a protected class under the Fair Housing Act, and most municipalities allow exclusive communities for older adults because of the recognized need for senior housing programs. The federal Housing for Older Persons Act of 1995 set a requirement that at least 80 percent of the units in an age-restricted community have at least one person who is 55 years or older, and requires the community to publish and adhere to certain policies.

With many baby boomers now in their 60s and 70s, the swell in senior housing “is happening everywhere in the region,” as many older adults move from single-family houses into multifamily developments, said Christopher Jones, senior vice president and chief planner for the Regional Plan Association, a Manhattan-based think tank. “It is happening nationwide.”

But more people on Long Island seem to be choosing to age in place than in other parts of the region. Since 2000, the number of people over 65 has increased by 34 percent on Long Island, compared with between 20 and 28 percent elsewhere in the region, Mr. Jones said.

Construction manager Steve Elkins escorts Sherri and Joseph Azizollahoff along a new street at Country Pointe at Plainview, which will have a resort-style clubhouse and an adjacent shopping center.
Credit Daniel Gonzalez for The New York Times.

Take Merle and Stephen Neidell, who initially thought they would spend the rest of their lives in the three-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bath farm ranch in Head of the Harbor that they had called home since 1985.

Instead, they sold the house for just under $1 million and, in April 2016, moved to an $895,000 three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath townhouse at Village Vistas, a “55 and better” development of 43 homes overlooking nearby Port Jefferson harbor.

“It is a different lifestyle we were after,” said Ms. Neidell, 73, a retired guidance counselor. The home where they had raised their children was in “a very isolated setting,” she said. “As we are aging, we like having neighbors right nearby. Now we have as much privacy as we want, plus as much socialization as we want.”

By moving to a community where the ages range from the late 50 to early 80s, “we increased our social circle tremendously, which is great at our age,” Ms. Neidell said. “For those of us who came to Long Island in the late 1960s and are choosing to remain here, this is a perfect opportunity for us to stay.”

Mr. Neidell, 74, a retired assistant superintendent of schools, said lower taxes and maintenance costs and an elevator (used now primarily as a dumbwaiter to bring packages up and down, since they still use the stairs) were also pluses. “We felt the 55 and over was more appropriate for us at this point,” he said.

Jim Tsunis, managing member of the Northwind Group, the developer of Village Vistas and similar upcoming developments in Bayport and Fort Salonga, said the communities are filling a need. “People that live here want to continue to live here, but they don’t want the costly expenses of a single-family home and the real estate taxes that go along with it,” Mr. Tsunis said. “They stay to be closer to their kids.”

His buyers are often able to split the profits from the larger single-family homes they sell to buy a condo on Long Island and another in a warmer climate, like Florida, the Carolinas or Arizona.

In Bayport, N.Y., where 85 of the 148 age-restricted townhomes that Mr. Tsunis is building are under contract, the community will have a clubhouse with indoor and outdoor pools, a fitness center, a billiard room and space for card games, fitness and yoga classes and other activities.

At the Preserve at Indian Hills in Huntington, Mr. Tsunis is applying for a zoning change that would allow him to cluster 98 age-restricted townhomes on a 150-acre property, while leaving an existing golf course intact. “There are a lot of people in the Huntington area who want to downsize and play golf,” he said.

After raising their two daughters in a four bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath contemporary colonial on a third-acre lot in Farmingdale, Sherri and Joseph Azizollahoff, both 66, are looking forward to single-level living at Country Pointe in Plainview.

“We were ready for a change after 28 years,” said Ms. Azizollahoff, an occupational therapist. In October 2016, they put a deposit on a two-bedroom villa in the high $800,000s that comes with a full basement and one-car garage, and are expecting to close by the end of the year. “It’s not that we don’t like children or younger families, but we like the idea of making friends with people that we would have more in common with.” The development is close to a daughter and two grandchildren in Syosset, she said, with enough space for their other daughter and two grandchildren to visit from Maryland.

Stephen and Merle Neidell, retired educators, bought a three-bedroom townhouse at Village Vistas, a 55-and-older community on 10 acres overlooking Port Jefferson, N.Y. They customized the interior, which has a double-height great room and a kitchen that opens to the living space.
Credit Daniel Gonzalez for The New York Times

Mr. Azizollahoff, a medical sales representative, is looking forward to the gym, and cycling and jogging on the greenbelt being built around the development. “If something happened to one of us, we are better off being there than being here and isolated,” he said.

By 2019, according to the National Association of Home Builders, households headed by someone 55 or older will constitute more than 45 percent of all American households. And developers nationwide hope to appeal to those graying boomers as they downsize.

In Westchester, many of the age-restricted developments are below market-rate rental housing, said Martin Ginsburg, a Valhalla-based developer who has built both affordable and luxury communities for older adults.

With 249 age-restricted active adult communities in New Jersey listed on, many retirees and empty nesters are choosing to stay close to home when they downsize. Among the 28 communities in northern New Jersey, prices range from the low $300,000s to the mid $600,000s. In Connecticut, 39 age-restricted communities have homes that sell from below $100,000 at the 2,580-unit Heritage Village in Southbury to the high $900,000s at the Greens at Gillette Ridge, which has 165 homes in Bloomfield. Both communities have golf courses.

The growth in age-restricted housing, Mr. Jones said, has been helped by the fact that “it is easier to get those projects approved because there is less concern about having school children that will raise school costs and property taxes.”

When the Engel Burman Group, a Garden City-based developer, approaches towns for approvals, the school districts “don’t want any more children,” said Steven Krieger, a partner. “The towns come back to us and say, ‘you have to build 55 and older housing.’” As a result, Engel Burman has built six such projects on Long Island, called Seasons communities, and 15 Bristol Assisted Living residences, which come with additional services.

“It’s a great business, because the population on Long Island is aging and continuing to age,” Mr. Krieger said. At the Seasons at Seaford, 112 two-bedroom, two-bath units, priced around $500,000, quickly sold out. And in three months, 120 of 160 units in phase one at the 256-unit upcoming Seasons at Elwood have sold.

“People on Long Island are looking for a lifestyle change and looking to remain close to their families,” Mr. Krieger said. “They want to see their grandchildren growing up. They want to continue to go to the same doctor, to the same supermarket, to the same restaurant for lunch.”

And in the new developments, he said, “all the common things that would typically be a headache for a homeowner are taken care of.”

Mitchell H. Pally, chief executive officer of the Long Island Builders Institute, said taxes for buyers in age-restricted communities are lower than they would be for those buying a single-family home.

The niche market “has exploded” for both sales and rentals developments, Mr. Pally said, estimating that 4,000 to 5,000 age-restricted units have been built on Long Island in the last five years.

In areas near downtowns and train stations, 10 age-restricted developments with a total of 1,430 units have been built since 2012, stretching from Mineola east to Patchogue, said Eric Alexander, director of Vision Long Island, a regional smart-growth planning organization. “With this demand and an aging population,” he said, “we anticipate more projects being proposed, approved and built.”

For the last 30 years, John and Helene Cranmer, both 67, lived in a four-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath ranch with a pool on about half an acre in Smithtown. Wanting to make a “life change,” they put a deposit on a $550,000 three-bedroom townhouse with a basement and a two-car garage at Country Pointe Meadows at Yaphank, a 55-and-older community being built by Beechwood Homes. The condo community will have 20 flats and townhouses priced from $469,000 to $574,000.

“We will be cutting our taxes by more than half,” said Mr. Cranmer, who worked in New York City’s Department of Finance. “It offers us comparable living space at a much more affordable cost of living.” They expect to move next September.

In the meantime, they are slowly weeding through “30 years of stuff” and planning a garage sale, said Mrs. Cranmer, a former systems programmer. Looking forward to card games, mah-jongg and pizza night with new neighbors, they are feeling more secure about the future. “If something happens to one of us, the other won’t have to rush to make an extreme lifestyle change,” Mrs. Cranmer said.

With life expectancy rising, assisted living facilities catering to octogenarians and beyond are also popping up. While 55-and-older communities offer independent living for active adults of a certain age, assisted living is for those who don’t need nursing care, but who can no longer manage completely on their own and need help with things like meal preparation, getting dressed, taking medications and social activities.

“You can’t build assisted living facilities on the island fast enough,” Mr. Pally said. According to New York State Department of Health data, Long Island currently has 89 assisted living facilities, and another seven are in the works.

“There are a lot more people in their 80s and 90s who require some sort of assisted living,” said Mr. Jones, of the Regional Plan Association. “That will only increase over the next few decades.”

In Commack, N.Y., Gurwin Jewish is taking reservations for Fountaingate Gardens, a continuing care retirement community with 176 independent living apartments on a campus that will offer residents a continuum of care, as assisted living and nursing become necessary.

The Engel Burman Group has 15 Bristal assisted living complexes on Long Island, in Westchester and in Bergen County, N.J., with more in the pipeline, Mr. Krieger said.

The average age of residents in assisted living is 88, up from 82 in 2000. Ninety percent move from within four miles, and many have friends from the same neighborhood. Most are settling close to their adult children.

As older parents age, “kids are moving their parents back close to them,” Mr. Krieger said. “The parents are constantly moving back from Florida and the Carolinas.”

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