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What is Independent Living?

Independent living isn’t so much a type of retirement community as it is a movement. The first Center for Independent Living was founded by disability activists in 1972 to promote independence for people with disabilities. The center was run by those with disabilities themselves, and peer support and advocacy were considered extremely valuable in and helping others develop coping strategies for maintaining independence.

This concept has been extended to senior living and is now a popular option for the older adult who needs little medical assistance. Independent living communities provide the greatest amount of independence and freedom of any senior living option available. Most independent living communities provide private apartments or houses designed for seniors.

Services Offered

These independent living communities generally offer community services such as general housekeeping, laundry, and cleaning services, but usually don’t provide assistance with dressing, personal care, and other aspects of daily life. There may be some social events and senior living community activities offered, but residents are generally independent in this area. Independent living facilities usually don’t provide medication assistance or nursing care, although residents can bring in outside help in this area if they prefer.

Independent Living - Housing For Seniors

Independent living facilities are not for everybody. To live in an independent living facility, potential residents must be able to care for themselves, as well as communicating with doctors and caregivers without the need for trained onsite staff. Independent living resident candidates generally value their independence highly and want to live in a community of other seniors, and prefer not to have to maintain a house on their own.

Types of Independent Living Facilities

Some independent living facilities provide very little community space, while others offer large community centers including recreational facilities, dining rooms, and other common areas.

There are several different types of senior independent living. Some are comprised of apartment complexes converted to be comfortable to senior citizens. Most of these complexes have an age restriction, usually at over 55. Senior apartment complexes generally are remodeled from existing apartment structures and have features such as handrails and senior-friendly bathrooms added in.

Retirement communities are generally entire neighborhoods or groups of homes or condos that are restricted to seniors only. They may be comprised of single-family or attached homes, or manufactured housing. Some retirement communities look a lot like traditional subdivisions. Residents often have the option of renting or buying their home within these communities.

Some independent living communities are subsidized by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. These housing units are often available for rent at below-market rates, and demand for them is high. Often, they gauge individual residents’ rent based on a percentage of income. If you get on the waiting list for one of these facilities, expect to be there for years.

What to Consider When Choosing an Independent Living Community

If you’re sure an independent living community is right for you or your loved one, there are a few things to keep in mind when choosing the right one. Here are a few questions to ask when considering a community.

  • Is parking well lit and close to your apartment or home?
  • Is there public transportation easily accessible from the apartment or home?
  • Does the facility offer units that occupy a single floor only? Are facilities on the first floor available?
  • Are buildings and parking spaces handicapped-accessible?
  • Is the housing adaptable to the needs of seniors? Can you install grab bars in the showers, for instance?
  • Does the community provide group activities and common areas, and do you have opportunities to meet and socialize with other residents?
  • If grandchildren come to visit, how long are they permitted to stay?
  • Is the security provided adequate to your needs?
  • Is the community near your doctor or a hospital?
  • Do you require memory care, a fitness center, a pool or garden?

Paying for Independent Living Housing

Medicare and Medicaid don’t cover the costs of housing payments, since these are not considered health expenses—so most independent living residents pay for their housing on their own. The exception involves subsidized independent living; if you’re lucky enough to get into a subsidized senior living community, your costs will probably be determined as a percentage of your income.

Outside of subsidized housing, the cost of independent living communities varies greatly. If you’re renting your apartment or home, the rents will probably be equivalent to the cost of housing in your area. You may also pay a monthly fee for services—which may be as little as a few hundred or as much as a few thousand dollars per month, depending on which services you need.

If you’re buying your unit within an independent living facility, expect to pay the most. The cost will probably be determined by the market in your area, but expect to pay a monthly fee on top of your housing costs for shared amenities and community services. These fees can add up to a thousand or a few thousand dollars per month.

Independent living facilities are ideal for seniors who value their independence—and don’t need intensive medical or daily living assistance. For seniors who qualify, independent senior living can combine independence with opportunities to connect with and be surrounded by other seniors in a supportive community.

Give yourself plenty of time to research, and you should be able to find housing that supports your needs—and your budget.