You won’t find the word “senior” in any of the promotional materials for Affinity Living Communities, though most Affinity residents are senior-discount age.
Instead, you’ll find “active adult” and other words designed to attract aging boomers: Wi-Fi, fitness center, community gardens, pub, happy hour and “pets welcome.”
Inland Group, a Spokane-based company that specializes in high-density residential development and construction, has opened seven Affinity Living Communities in Washington, Idaho and Colorado since December 2011.
Spokane’s two communities opened last summer, and Coeur d’Alene’s Affinity community opened in February. The eighth community will open this month in Kennewick and the ninth, slated for December, will be in Olympia.
“We’re looking at rolling out five to 10 (communities) per year for a period of time,” said company president Darin Davidson. “We’re focused on the West because it’s closer to home, but I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point we venture further East.”
Affinity communities incorporate concepts from 55-plus housing developments and from independent living units found in retirement communities. But Affinity is unique in ways that may coincide with anticipated housing preferences for aging baby boomers.
Cecil Rinker, 48, is the director of operations for Affinity. He explains Affinity by what it’s not.
“It’s not a retirement community. It’s not an assisted living community. It’s not an apartment building,” Rinker said. “We don’t have dining rooms making prepared meals. The lifestyle is more like age-restricted condo living without having to buy the condo.”
Davidson added: “When you walk into the community, you don’t hear the grandfather clock ticking.”
The parents of boomers often remained in their homes until they died or until illness or upkeep demands forced them out. Some bought into “aging in place” communities where they could transition from independent units, to assisted living units, to full-time nursing care.
Rinker worked in the senior housing industry for 18 years before joining Inland Group in September 2012 to oversee the establishment of Affinity communities throughout the West.
“The average age is between 84 and 86 when people move to retirement communities and assisted living,” Rinker said. “The average age in our Affinity communities is 71.6, and we think the trend will continue down.”
The first Affinity community opened in Walla Walla in December 2011. Its average age now: 66.
Affinity residents rent their units, and the company is betting that home-owning boomers will consider renting dwellings again, as many did in their 20s.
“There’s an excitement that is similar,” Rinker said. “There’s a newness here of retirement, of having your life back. The kids are gone, and now it’s something new for you again.”
Affinity units rent from $950 to $1,495 a month, depending on the size of the unit.
You can rent many Inland Northwest apartments for less, but regular apartments don’t include all utilities, plus Wi-Fi, cable TV, light housekeeping twice a month, complimentary coffee service and access to the complex’s 30,000 square feet of amenity space, Rinker said.
In those amenity spaces: salt water pools, workout rooms, libraries, small movie theaters, garden spaces, game rooms, craft areas and woodshops.
It’s more accurate to compare Affinity’s rental rates with retirement community prices, Rinker said.
“Most retirement communities have bundled rates around $3,000 that include meals, transportation and some level of assistance, even if you do not need or use the services,” he said. “Although a great concept for older retirees, many boomers do not see this as an option.”
Renting, rather than buying, has another appeal.
If something in your apartment breaks “you put in a work order, and they fix it,” said Duane Goetz, 69.
He and his wife, Marie Goetz, 65, moved to the South Hill Affinity on Dec. 1.
Duane Goetz was handy around his family’s 2,4000 square-foot rancher. He built a 60-foot deck, an above-ground pool and a three-story tree house. But when he moved into Affinity, “I felt the weight lift off my shoulders.”
During their young adult years, many boomers moved away from home for college and then moved again, sometimes every few years, for their careers.
In their 60s and beyond, some boomers will get mobile again, aging experts predict.
They’ll move to cities where their grown children live for a few months to help with the grandchildren, for instance, or they’ll relocate to train for encore careers or they’ll move near aging parents – temporarily – but insist on their own apartments.
Affinity offers short-term leases – one month, three months, six months.
“Independent living communities offer a 30-day (lease) arrangement. If you need to leave, you can leave. So we wanted to be consistent and we offered a month-to-month arrangement, believing once they moved in, and became part of the community, they would have no desire to leave,” Davidson said.
Some liked the short-term option, but not all.
“In the first communities we opened, we had people say ‘Geez, I feel like you’ll bait and switch me. I’ll move in and my rent will double.’ And so we now offer up to two-year leases.”
Affinity also caps rent increases to no more than 5 percent a year, Rinker said.
Hang around an Affinity community, and you’ll have flashbacks to college dorm life. About 15 percent of the residents still work, Rinker said, but the rest are no longer tied to a 9-to-5 work schedule.
In college, students could spill out of their rooms at midnight for a study break and find others in the common areas.
In older age, insomnia – or the freedom to stay up late without worrying about work the next day – translates to middle-of-the-night activities.
Affinity’s small theaters are open all night. Residents sometimes gather at midnight, pop in a movie, munch on free popcorn and settle in.
The early birds drink free cups of coffee and hot chocolate together.
“We wear pajamas and slippers in the elevator,” said Marie Goetz.
A trend called elder co-housing has not yet made it to Spokane, though there a few communities in existence in other cities, and the concept is expected to grow as boomers age, according to AARP.
In elder co-housing, individual units are built around large common spaces where most of the activities happen. Co-housing communities maintain databases that match people’s needs. For instance, a resident who needs a ride to the doctor can find someone willing to drive.
There’s co-housing feel in Affinity communities.
“We know people are taking people to doctor’s appointments,” Rinker said. “When someone is sick, they are watching over each other. It wasn’t the intention, but it’s a natural inclination people have.”
Lifelong learning and fun
Affinity communities offer about a dozen classes, workshops and events each month, but the activities are organized by residents, not by community directors. Residents often lead the activities.
Millie Hynes, 63, moved into Affinity on the South Hill in September.
“My husband really wanted to move to Affinity, but I had a massage room in our home where I had a private practice,” she said.
During the tour of Affinity, Hynes said to Ann Hemry, community relations director, “I like it but I don’t want to give up massage.”
Hemry said, “Would you consider doing massage for the residents? We can give you a room to use.”
Hynes does hour-long, $45 massages three to five times a week.
Each Affinity community has a Dilly Dally’s Pub. Twice a week, community directors sponsor happy hour; the first two drinks are free.
Affinity doesn’t provide meals. Each apartment has a full kitchen, but, Hynes said, “it’s hard to diet here, because we’re always doing potlucks.”
Kathy Bryant, a senior-housing specialist with Century 21, spent a week every month living in 12 different Inland Northwest retirement communities in 2011. She isn’t surprised at the focus on fun.
“They’ve been busy all their lives – working, working, working – and now they want to enjoy,” Bryant said.
Occupancy rates for all Affinity communities average about 55 percent; the long-term goal is 95 percent occupancy, Rinker said. “That’s when we know we have stabilized.”
As the communities grow, Affinity community directors are learning what residents don’t need.
Each community has a van like the vans used in senior complexes for group excursions, but the majority of Affinity residents drive, Rinker said, so vans won’t be part of future Affinity complexes.
Each community was built with a beauty salon, because “we thought it was something our clientele would want,” Rinker said.
“As it turns out, our age demographic makes a big difference. When you’re 88 or 90 years old, you are in the generation who had their hair set and shampooed once a week. Our folks shampoo their hair every night, comb it and go.”
Some of the salons will be repurposed, depending on what community members wish for the space.
The oldest boomers are just 67. Many are still working, entrenched in their family homes, neighborhoods and cities. No one knows precisely how and where they’ll live out their older years. Even if you build it, they may not move in.
Some aging experts predict that boomers, tired of their peers, will gravitate toward mixed-generation housing communities. Or they may follow their parents’ patterns and buy into retirement communities, aging in place, too. Or live on cruise ships. Or, valuing privacy and space, they may remodel their homes in age-friendly ways.
Or all of the above. Aging boomers will have a lot of housing options.
“The larger (retirement) communities in town are already adapting,” Bryant said. “They are putting in pools, woodshops, sports bars. They are doing all of these things to attract (boomers).”
Still, Affinity – the new kid on the housing block – has people buzzing.
“They are forward-thinking folks,” Bryant said of the Inland Group behind Affinity Living Communities. “Even though their communities aren’t yet full, they are anticipating that they will be.”