Urbanization won’t be our only priority. As baby boomers age, designers and architects will need to meet that group’s growing and diverse needs. In Portland, this is already happening—at least for those who can afford it. On the South Waterfront, for instance, Mirabella, a high-end continuing care retirement community (CCRC), is under construction. CCRCs provide a combination of independent living, assisted living, and skilled nursing care to those who pay to live there. And while such communities have become common in this country, Mirabella will differ in at least one major way. Whereas living at other CCRCs has meant paying a hefty nonrefundable entrance fee (about the same as a home, in some cases), at Mirabella your $300,000 or $500,000 or $800,000 entrance fee (depending on the size of your living space) is 95 percent refundable should you move or die (in which case the refund would go to your kin). The property is already 95 percent pre-sold, and 300 individuals or families are on the waiting list, says Paul Riepma, senior vice president of Pacific Retirement Services, which owns Mirabella. “Baby boomers like the idea of being able to change their minds. And they don’t want to lose their money; they want to hold onto it and know they can take it with them no matter where they go.”
In the Portsmouth neighborhood, in North Portland, a more affordable yet revolutionary model is set to begin construction late next year on the old John Ball Elementary School site. Based on a similar community built 14 years ago on a former military base in Illinois, Portland Hope Meadows will house foster parents hoping to adopt their foster children, as well as seniors who wish to live in a multigenerational environment. The original Hope Meadows was started by Brenda Krause Eheart, a University of Illinois behavioral scientist who believed foster families and seniors could benefit mutually from such an intergenerational arrangement—the families by having extra guardians around for support, the seniors by avoiding isolation.
Portland Hope Meadows will be created via private funding and public fundraising, with technical assistance from Generations of Hope, Eheart’s nonprofit. The community will consist of eight houses for families, 32 apartments for single or coupled elders, shared gardens, and a community center, where elders will volunteer ?10 hours of foster-child mentoring and tutoring per month and received a rent reduction in return. “This would provide elders a safe environment to live in. And it would provide purpose and meaning to their lives,” says Derenda Schubert, the executive director. “The children will also then experience a healthy community life. There’s a sense of everyone looking out for each other.”
But for every older adult who wants to move into a communal setting like Mirabella or Hope Meadows, just as many want to stay in their homes—or age in place, as the gerontological lingo goes—as long as possible, says Frances Spak, a former social worker who heads the Growing Older at Home Project (GOAH) in North Portland’s Overlook neighborhood.
As any building complex, neighborhood, or geographic area becomes more heavily populated with residents who have chosen to age in place, it can apply for Naturally Occurring Retirement Community (NORC) status with the US Department of Health and Human Services. If it qualifies—as Overlook recently did through a partnership between GOAH and the Portland branch of United Jewish Communities, the national organization that has spearheaded the NORC movement since 2001—it will receive funding that can go toward helping older residents stay in their homes longer.
Spak is using the money to prepare a resource list of support services that might include companies like In Your Home, a Lake Oswego remodeling firm whose aging-in-place specialists (certified by the National Association of Home Builders) upgrade homes to be age-friendly (they’ll install anything from grab bars in the bathroom to glare-free lighting). She also plans to coordinate exercise and wellness programs, transportation to medical appointments, and educational workshops and classes like the ones offered through Life by Design NW, a coalition of nine local organizations that offers assessment and advice for older adults seeking new careers or volunteer opportunities. “By gaining NORC status, we can help seniors who want to stay in their homes but who are unable to cope with some of the everyday situations they need to in order to stay there,” Spak says. “It’s things like getting your front steps repaired. Or having someone come to visit you so you don’t get lonely. But we also want to build a community of people who can count on each other and who spend time together—watching movies, having picnics.”