Commentary

The Villages: A new type of retirement community | Ray E. Landis

With a modest home priced at $460,000, not to mention the extra costs for fees and amenities, The Villages are designed for a certain class of retirees

March 25, 2022 6:30 am

(Image via pxHere.com)

Pennsylvania is notorious for having an absurd number of different local governments. The commonwealth has counties, cities of various classes, boroughs, towns, school districts and townships. Villages are not officially recognized local entities, although there are PennDOT-issued signs identifying villages throughout the state.

Despite the lack of a formal designation, could villages be a critical part of the lives of older Pennsylvanians? The term “village” has come up in recent articles about very different visions of the future of housing for older Americans. Neither concept relates to the dictionary definition of a village as a settlement larger than a hamlet or smaller than a town, however, and each shows a dramatically different vision when it comes to addressing the reality of our growing older population.

One perspective does not involve a single village – it is The Villages, and they are much, much larger than a hamlet or a town. The Villages are an unincorporated senior-living complex in Central Florida where over 100,000 older and mostly-out-of-state retirees, including many Pennsylvanians, have congregated to enjoy the warm weather, the lack of taxes, and the companionship of people with similar backgrounds and viewpoints.

The New York Times recently profiled The Villages (warning – paywall) in a critical opinion essay, which emphasized the conservative nature of a majority of the residents. The Villages has become a reliable stop for Republican politicians, and it has quickly gained a reputation as a stronghold of Trump support.

Of course, there is no political party requirement to live in The Villages, but there is another requirement – the resources to afford to live there. With a modest home priced at $460,000, not to mention the extra costs for fees and amenities, The Villages are designed for a certain class of retirees.

There is another much larger group of retirees who cannot afford to move to The Villages or similar high-end retirement meccas scattered around the country. Some of these individuals and couples are relying on a different type of village to help them navigate their experience as they grow older. Instead of new construction centered around golf courses and clubhouses, these villages are parts of existing communities and embrace the concept of aging in place.

This Kaiser Health News article describes how groups have formed in locations across the country to help older residents adapt to the realities of aging.

Generally, these villages are membership organizations offering supportive services to seniors such as transportation, snow-shoveling, or companionship. They rely on various funding sources and the efforts of volunteers to perform their work and are most often small-scale operations. Nearly 300 separate villages are in operation in the United States, but the number of older Americans participating in these cooperatives is less than half of the population of The Villages in Florida.

State and local governments have been slow to participate in the village concept, perhaps because of the desire of many of the villages to maintain their independence from government oversight. But as they seek to serve a more diverse population, the support of local Area Agencies on Aging and other departments assisting older residents could help to broaden their appeal.

Pennsylvania, with its large older population, is home to some of these villages. The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote about Penn’s Village last year and village movements have been created in Lancaster, Easton, and the Poconos.

These two “village” concepts offer visions of growing older which share some themes, but are markedly different, and ultimately at odds, in other fundamental approaches to aging. Both recognize the social needs of those no longer interacting with work colleagues or the parents of their children’s friends, and both seek to provide an environment to prevent isolation and loneliness.

But The Villages, and other similar communities, seek a different sort of isolation – an isolation from the realities of a society where the financial gap between the wealthy and the not-so-wealthy grows every day. By moving to Florida, which has no income tax, meaning neither retirement nor investment income are taxed, retirees avoid contributing to the welfare of those in need of assistance.

In addition, too many of the residents of The Villages are seeking an environment where they can restrict their interaction with people who do not share their political, racial, and religious views. As areas of the country diversify, those who fear change look for a place to retreat – and The Villages offer a Fox News-friendly neighborhood with others who have a similar background.

Meanwhile, the further development of villages to assist older residents within existing communities shows promise in allowing those with more limited resources to continue to live at home and thrive in a multi-generational, multi-cultural setting. But this development is frustratingly slow and is unlikely to keep up with the growing number of those in need of help, especially with limited outside resources available.

Unfortunately, the alternative to either of these types of villages is another type of living arrangement – long-term care. The village movement is designed to delay the need for long-term care services. But if village movements don’t have the resources to expand, more lower income seniors may be forced to leave their homes and move to these facilities. 

As far as those who have retreated to The Villages and suffer health setbacks which mean they can no longer live independently? Good luck – the Florida legislature just passed legislation strongly supported by nursing home lobbyists to loosen regulations. It turns out living in a state controlled by right-wing politicians and business interests has consequences – even if you went there to get away from where you came from.

Ray E. Landis writes about the issues that are important to older Pennsylvanians. His work appears biweekly on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. Readers may follow him on Twitter @RELandis.

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