Generation X and baby boomers are reshaping the definition of 55-and-better communities, also known as active adult communities. No longer are these retirement havens whispered about or hidden away. Instead, today's 55-and-better communities offer much more than just retirement. They are vibrant hubs of activity and camaraderie, bustling with opportunities for social engagement and personal enrichment. From fitness centers and walking trails to art studios and continuing education classes, 55-and-better communities offer what this demographic craves – abundant opportunities to help them stay physically and mentally active.

According to 2020 data from the United States Census Bureau, approximately one out of six people in the United States is aged 65 and above. As the aging population is expected to continue growing, there is a heightened demand for housing options designed to cater to the needs and desires of older individuals. 55-and-better communities offer a solution to this demand by providing amenities, services, and living environments specifically tailored to older adults' lifestyles.

What exactly is an active adult community?

Active adult communities provide residents with independent living experiences enriched with resort-style amenities and a wide array of social activities. Accommodation options within these communities range from condominiums to single-family homes, townhouses, apartments and mobile homes. Many of these communities are conveniently located near restaurants, shopping centers and local attractions.

Legal recognition criteria for 55-and-better communities

If you've heard of 55-and-better communities, you may wonder how age restrictions are legally allowed. Active adult communities can enforce age restrictions thanks to the Housing for Older Persons Act (HOPA). HOPA was enacted in 1995 to address housing discrimination against older individuals, providing them with protections and accommodations. HOPA also seeks to facilitate the development of housing specifically designed to meet the needs of older adults.

For a community to be recognized as a legal 55-and-better community, it must meet the following criteria:

  • At least 80% of the units must have at least one occupant who is 55 or older.

  • The community must publish and adhere to policies and procedures that show the intent to operate as a residence for adults 55 and over.

  • The community must comply with the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD’s) regulatory requirements for age verification.

It’s important to note that while these communities are geared toward adults 55 and older, most allow certain age exceptions for a resident’s spouse and children.
Common misconceptions

Despite their growing popularity, misconceptions still exist regarding 55-and-better communities' lifestyles. These misconceptions may stem from outdated stereotypes, limited perspectives, a lack of awareness of services offered, and generalizations about older adults.

Other common misconceptions include:

Concerns about independence and autonomy - There's a misconception that 55-and-better communities compromise independence. In truth, these communities prioritize residents' autonomy. This means that residents can participate in activities at their own pace and enjoy a lifestyle that aligns with their preferences.

They lack excitement - 55-and-better communities are also perceived as monotonous or lacking in activities. Contrary to this belief, these communities offer abundant amenities and activities for residents who enjoy a dynamic lifestyle catering to various interests, debunking the myth of a sedate or limited community experience.

What draws people to 55-and-better communities?

Active adult communities can be appealing to older individuals with growing physical limitations. Keeping up with maintenance and yard work can become daunting as individuals age. Many homeowners' associations (HOAs) within 55-and-better communities offer landscaping, exterior maintenance, and property repairs, alleviating the burden of these tasks for residents. While residents still have to maintain their home's interior and backyard, HOAs take care of the community's common areas with services such as lawn mowing, landscaping, exterior maintenance, and common area upkeep. Some communities will even take care of the landscaping on residents’ properties. This provides convenience while eliminating the physical strain an older person might experience from ongoing property maintenance.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), approximately 25% of community-dwelling Americans aged 65 and older are socially isolated, with many feeling lonely. Given these statistics, it's no surprise that 55-and-better communities are increasingly sought as havens for social connection and companionship among older adults. Many active adult communities offer daily activities, community programming and events such as classes and other social and leisure activities. This offers unique opportunities for individuals to connect with like-minded peers with similar life experiences and interests. This can foster a sense of belonging in life.

“Connecting with peers going through similar life stages can be comforting and fulfilling, said Ilgim Hosea, vice president at FirstService Residential. “Whether through casual conversations over morning coffee or participating in organized activities and outings, the opportunity to connect can help older residents feel a sense of camaraderie and belonging within the community.”

Watch and learn how FirstService partners with communities elevate their lifestyle offerings.

Other reasons people choose active adult communities include:

Amenities – 55-and-better communities typically offer many amenities to enhance residents' quality of life. From luxurious clubhouses equipped with theatres, fitness centers, swimming pools, and spas to golf courses and tennis courts, there are many opportunities for socialization and leisure. Many of these communities also offer concierge, housekeeping, and transportation services to enhance residents' convenience and comfort.

A quieter atmosphere – Active adult communities generally offer quieter living environments than residential neighborhoods with younger children.

Enhanced safety and security – Many 55-and-better communities are gated. Guests visiting these communities typically need approval from residents.

"Picture a community filled with like-minded people of similar ages and demographics, where careers and finances aren't top of mind, but socializing, entertainment, and pleasure are paramount. Are we talking about college? No! Welcome to 55-and-better communities," said Landy Labadie, vice president of community solutions at FirstService Residential. "These active adult communities take active to an entirely new level. Some offer concerts, games, farmers' markets, sports, food and beverages, arts and crafts, aquatic activities, pet programs, and more. This is just a small taste of what they have transformed into."

Discover five key factors to consider when selecting the ideal lifestyle community. Read: How to Chose the Right Lifestyle Community for Your Needs

The future of 55-and-better-communities

There’s a growing trend of seniors embarking on a journey to higher education. As a result, University-Based Retirement Communities, also known as UBRCs, are emerging across the country. These communities provide older adults with a distinctive living arrangement, placing them near university campuses and granting them access to educational resources.

“There is no age limit to curiosity,” said Mindy Anderson, director of lifestyle at FirstService Residential. “While conventional notions of retirement may suggest a time for relaxation and leisure, UBRCs present a different perspective, where residents prioritize lifelong learning and intellectual engagement.”

55-and-better communities have evolved beyond their traditional role as simple retirement destinations. No longer solely reserved for retirees seeking a quiet life, these communities now cater to a diverse range of individuals seeking vibrant, active, and fulfilling lifestyles. As the U.S. population continues to age, these communities are reshaping perceptions and redefining what it means to live well in later years.

Discover more about 55-and-better communities by contacting FirstService Residential.

Monday February 26, 2024