updated 2/23/2011 4:16:43 PM ET 2011-02-23T21:16:43

SHOREVIEW, Minn., Feb. 23, 2011 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- With the "Silver Tsunami" barreling forward, housing developers are finding new ways to meet the needs of aging baby boomers.

Independent living and assisted living are options already available, but there's another choice for seniors who want to remain engaged in the larger community. It's called "aging in community," and increasingly, data shows it's what people want.

"What we're seeing in America is a growing reverse from isolating seniors to integration across ages," says Steve Ordahl, Senior Vice President for Business and Fund Development for Ecumen, a nonprofit senior housing and services company in Shoreview, Minn. "And that means we're going to see more multigenerational housing communities, where aging is pretty much just a number."

AARP recently conducted a national study of Americans 45-plus. When asked about seven different community aspects and the level of importance they have for them, two-thirds of respondents said that being near friends and/or family and being near where one wants to go (i.e., grocery stores, doctor's offices, the library) is extremely or very important to them. Roughly half noted that being near church or social organizations or being somewhere where it's easy to walk are extremely or very important to them, while somewhat fewer said the same thing about being near good schools or being near work.

Meanwhile, a 2010 Architectural Institute of Architects Home Design Trends Survey of 500 architectural firms highlighted the resurgence of front porches as more single-family homeowners are looking to reconnect with neighbors."

"It makes sense that this mindset will increasingly impact senior living," said Ordahl. "You just don't wake up at 85 and say, 'I no longer want to be connected to people."

Multigenerational housing also makes financial sense.

Senior housing is comprised of many people who buy groceries, use the bank, eat at restaurants, and shop at Target. Also putting multigenerational housing adjacent to shopping and other community venues creates higher density and less sprawl. Rather than building senior housing "ghettos" as stand-alone places for old people, housing developers like Ecumen have to take a longer view, looking at how the housing will connect to the larger community and how it will be appealing to future generations.

"Five years ago, we were nursing home dominated, now we have a much more diversified housing portfolio and are expanding our community-based services, which the market is telling us they want," said Ecumen's Ordahl.

Examples of where housing has changed include Duluth, Minnesota, where Ecumen replaced a nursing home in a multi-generational residential area with Ecumen Lakeshore independent and assisted living, and a physical therapy and rehabilitation center. A child daycare will soon open within the community and the central café draws people from throughout the neighborhood. A new home health care service also operates out of the neighborhood to serve seniors in the larger community.

In downtown Minneapolis, Ecumen helped a neighborhood adjacent to the famed Guthrie Theater and just a short train ride from the new Minnesota Twins ballpark, to form a multi-generational membership organization called Mill City Commons. It is patterned after the popular Beacon Hill Village in Boston, Mass.

In another trend gaining popularity, college town retirement communities are forming across the country, with major university affiliations such as Penn State and the University of Texas in Austin. Ecumen is currently working with a West Coast college to evaluate integrating senior housing into their campus. 

Another option is co-housing, where residents have their own living quarters, but they share common areas and eat communal meals prepared by residents at least part of the time. According to The Cohousing Association of the United States, there are more than 200 such communities in the U.S. One of the newest is OakCreek Cohousing Community in Stillwater, Oklahoma, which plans to break ground later this year on 24 homes, for people 50-plus.

Ecumen is now embarking on another iteration of age-integrated community development. Edward Rose and Sons, a real estate developer and property management company based in Farmington Hills, Michigan, has partnered with Ecumen to develop and manage a senior living operation within a multigenerational housing development.

The new 568-unit, "Irene Woods" development in Memphis, Tenn., is expected to break ground in June, 2011. It will include 140 senior rental units offering a mix of independent housing, assisted living, and memory care. The remaining 428 apartments on the site will be open to anyone, with no age restrictions and will be connected to a variety of shopping and other amenities.  

"It's a new business model for us," said Edward Rose and Sons CEO Warren Rose. His 90 year-old family business owns and manages 56,000 apartment units across 11 states. "We saw an opportunity to branch off to a market we hadn't tapped into before."

Rose said he decided to move into multigenerational housing because his research shows that aging boomers who want to age in community are underserved in many markets, now and into the foreseeable future. Rose sees an undeniable opportunity.

"Rather than having centers of housing with just seniors living there, or just young people," said Rose, "it seems better to integrate them so they're closer together. It's a new thing, and I think it's going to be a big draw."

Dana Wollschlager, Ecumen's Director of Real Estate agrees.

Wollschlager envisions Irene Woods as an intentional community where families can stay close to aging parents, and even where younger professionals can find a job. "Our hope is that people might be interested in working with the seniors who may be living next door to them," said Wollschlager.

Many of the 140 senior units at Irene Woods will require 24-hour staffing, so there will be a need for all kinds of help, including chefs, maintenance people, and licensed professionals including LPNs and other certified nursing staff.

"We're creating an environment where you can live and work, all on the same 40 acres of land," said Wollschlager. "It's a community, one in which you can grow up and grow old."

Ecumen based in Shoreview, Minn., is the most innovative leader of senior housing and services, empowering individuals to live richer and fuller lives.  Ecumen provides senior housing, at-home services, rehabilitation and long-term care services, and senior housing development. Ecumen communities employ approximately 4,000 employees and serve more than 10,000 people.

CONTACT:  Andrea Marboe 
          andreamarboe@ecumen.org 
          651-766-4433

© Copyright 2012, GlobeNewswire, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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