More than 1,400 new “active adult” homes are on the drawing board in Gwinnett County as the county faces a projected boom in its senior population over the next 30 years — although some city and county leaders say the new construction is already overdue.
The new homes are aimed at residents over age 55 who want smaller, more accessible homes that let them age in their communities.
“There’s a strong trend in metro Atlanta and Gwinnett toward these kinds of projects because the development community knows they have a big segment of the population that’s looking at changing homes and changing how they live,” said Dan Reuter, deputy director of planning and development for Gwinnett County.
Gwinnett’s senior population is projected to nearly triple in the next 30 years. By 2050, Gwinnett’s population of people 55 and older could reach 506,169 — more than a third of the total county population, according to Atlanta Regional Commission projections. By comparison, in 2015 seniors made up only 20% of the county’s population.
The county has five residential projects aimed at seniors in the pipeline. Two are in Snellville: one on the site of a former country club golf course, with an estimated 257 “high-end” single-family homes, and another near the future Towne Center development, with a planned 88 “affordable” apartments, according to city spokesman Brian Arrington. Duluth has approved a 180-unit “active adult” apartment complex and is poised to soon approve another with the same number of rental units, senior planner Dan Robinson said. Peachtree Corners announced Monday a 115-acre gated community for people 55 and older that will have up to 916 residences, with a mix of single-family homes, townhomes, condos, assisted living and memory care.
Developers have not released prices for the projects still in development, but similar “active adult” communities in Gwinnett and metro Atlanta typically advertise homes in the $300,000 to $500,000 range for single-family residences and townhomes. Recently approved projects also include condos and apartments, which could be priced lower and include rental options.
“I don’t know if we’ve addressed it as quickly as we’ve needed to, so this addresses some of that gap,” said Diana Wheeler, community development director for Peachtree Corners.
Arrington, of Snellville, said his city recognized the “critical need” for senior housing 10 years ago. Its approval of two senior communities, including one adjacent to the future Towne Center mixed-use development, has been a step toward meeting it.
What a senior wants
Baby boomers reaching late middle age and nearing retirement are increasingly looking to downsize from larger family homes to smaller floorplans befitting empty nesters.
“We’re all living longer. We are in a period of our life when we’re older and we don’t have children in our house anymore,” Reuter said. “I tend to think a lot of folks want to stay in their communities. If you’ve worked in Gwinnett and lived in Gwinnett, but you want a smaller house, you tend to look in Gwinnett. There’s definitely a lot of people who want to stay in Gwinnett with their friends and their church.”
That was important to Helen Russell, 73, who moved from a four-bedroom home in Suwanee to a two-bedroom condo in Buford’s 55-and-up Orchards at Park Ridge community last year. Russell’s children and grandchildren still live in metro Atlanta, and she has longtime friends in Suwanee, but she was sick of doing yardwork at her old home. She looked for an “active adult” community because staying physically and socially active was important to her.
“It’s nice to be in a neighborhood with people who have similar interests to you,” Russell said. “We have lots of social activity — bingo, cards, and in the summer we have water aerobics. As you get older, the social aspects of your life get more important. You need to have friends around to keep your mind going straight.”
Wanting to stay in your community as you age is not a new trend, but the “sheer number” of people becoming older is requiring more resources, according to said Mary Blumberg, manager of strategic planning and development in aging and independent services for the Atlanta Regional Commission.
“In order to get ready for this you have to start planning differently,” Blumberg said.
The planned Peachtree Corners development, with its variety in home sizes and levels of care as residents age, is a good example of planning ahead, Blumberg said.
There is no one cookie-cutter solution when older people are looking for a new place to live. Some want a newly constructed single-family home and are willing to pay market rate. Others would rather have a smaller blueprint or require a lower price tag. Russell got lower bills and someone else to take care of her yardwork when she moved to her community; a smaller home means lower utility bills, and resident fees pay for landscaping and exterior home maintenance.
“I think that having all those services together and different housing options is a great thing, and it truly allows you to age in place,” Blumberg said. “One thing that’s important as you think about aging and getting older is having the services that can support you if your needs change.”
These new communities built with older people in mind can also be more accessible for residents than existing homes that have not been made specifically for seniors, said Kate Sweeney, an ARC spokeswoman.
“Only 57% of existing homes have more than one universal design element — ramps, wide doorways, the ability to live on a single floor, things like that,” Sweeney said.
Going from a two-story home to a ranch-style condo was a plus for Russell, as it lessens her chance of suffering a fall, she said. In addition to senior-specific accommodations, amenities like walking trails and pools are also selling points for “active adult” communities. Russell says she’s more active now living at the Orchards because she feels safe going for walks in the gated community.
As Gwinnett grows — it’s expected to reach 1.4 million residents by 2050 — it’s going to need more housing for everyone, including those approaching retirement. The new “active adult” communities can be seen as not just for older residents now, but also for the many who will reach that stage of life in the future.
“We need communities that are accessible for all ages and abilities,” Sweeney said. “That comes down to accessible housing, affordable housing, with services easily available to us. We want to live longer lives, and we are, so designing communities for the older population is designing communities for us in the future.”
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