“I felt so alone,” says Gloria Donadello. “After my partner died, if I didn't have the RainbowVision community to help me through that time, I don't know what I would've done. I have very little family left.”
Donadello is an 82-year-old lesbian. She was one of the first residents at RainbowVision, a gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender majority community with a 30% “allied” or heterosexual population, in Santa Fe. “As soon as I moved to RainbowVision Santa Fe, it felt like home with people who shared my values. I have so many friends. And the food is pretty good, too!” the spry octagenarian tells Long-Term Living.
Ten years ago, no one could predict the power baby boomers would wield in changing where Americans spend their retirement years. While the percent of niche long-term care housing is low (less than 1%, according to experts), that is changing and changing fast. “The sheer critical mass of baby boomers and current retirees is fueling the demand for niche housing,” says Andrew J. Carle, assistant professor and director, assisted living/senior housing administration at George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia. It is the only university in the country that offers both undergraduate and graduate concentrations in senior housing administration (and will soon be offering a master's degree in senior housing administration, another first.)
Carle likens the proliferation of niche housing to the explosion of the Coke brand. When Coke was first introduced in 1886, there was only one type. Now, because there is a market for it, Coke is available in 13 different flavors worldwide.
“Every decade boomers have existed, they've exploded the portfolio of whatever products were in demand,” Carle says. And because of that demand, niche assisted living has developed for recreational vehicle enthusiasts, Native Americans, Asians, people who enjoy cruising, wines, and two of the fastest growing niches—gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBTers), and university-based retirement communities (UBRCs). There is even a group of nudists in Pascal County, Florida, considering the feasibility of building a nudist assisted living facility in or near a current nudist community so they will not have to eschew their lifestyle as they age for “the textile world.”
“With 78 million boomers who control 70% of the wealth in this country, there is enough of any number of groups to warrant looking at a senior housing model for them,” Carle says.
Among the fastest growing niche markets is senior housing for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) individuals. “This makes sense,” Carle says, “because somewhere between 5 to 10% of the population is comprised of these lifestyles.” Most of the residences for GLBTers have opened in the last 10 years. He estimates there are at least a dozen GLBT assisted living facilities with more on the way. Residents at RainbowVision in Santa Fe can dine in the Truman Capote Dining Room and work out at the Billy Jean King Fitness Center (the tennis champ herself uses the facility). “They are a neat group. My favorite thing on the activities calendar is Drag Queen Bingo night,” Carle says. RainbowVision Properties, Inc., is planning to open another GLBT community in Palm Springs as well as the San Francisco Bay area and Vancouver, British Columbia, with Plum Living Properties.
Besides RainbowVision Properties, Inc., Aegis Senior Living in Washington is about to complete its environmental impact study to open Fountaingrove Lodge in Santa Rosa, California, in the autumn of 2010, according to Wes Winter, senior marketing director. Aegis hopes this will be its flagship GLBT community. According to Winter, it will be the first CCRC for GLBTers in the country. The Sonoma Valley residence will be comprised of 148 units–100 for independent living (50 of which already have deposits on them), 36 assisted living units with one-third of those devoted to Alzheimer's and memory-impaired residents, and 12 units providing affordable housing for employees. Twenty percent of the assisted living units will be set aside for lower income residents. “We know we will have younger residents who may be suffering from HIV or breast cancer, and often these folks have already spent down,” Winter says.