Condo Country: Seniors Ditch Florida For The Windy City

Condo Country: Seniors Ditch Florida For The Windy City

As America’s baby boomers grow older and economic woes shift the elderly from suburbs to center city, developers capitalize on the demographics as seen in Chicago, where billions of dollars are being spent to transform the Windy City into the next Boca Raton.

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I just finished reading Early Bird – Rodney Rothman’s sidesplitting account of premature retirement, garnished with the voice of Woody Allen and the wit of a squiggle-vision Jonathan Katz. Burned out at the age of 28 from writing comedy in Manhattan, Rothman did what Social Security made possible for America’s elderly – he migrated to Boca Raton, Florida. Painting the landscape of Boca with condominium complexes, pools, softball, dinner specials, activity groups and mass transit all for the exclusive comfort of seniors, it takes Rothman a full month to insert himself into the social cliques of his inevitable future. The transition and subsequent realignment with his appropriate peerage gives an interesting look into the future of America – gray haired, retired and living in condos. Shortly after, The Chicago Tribune, talking about how gas prices are changing the way seniors live” target=”_blank”>I read this article from The Chicago Tribune, talking about how gas prices are changing the way seniors live.

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Seniors can’t afford to drive anymore (hold the applause). They’re moving closer to cities and closer to forms of mass transit. They’re turning in their single-family suburban homes for new multi-use condominium developments. In Chicago, the city is flanked by multi-million dollar condo-communities and “senior hotels.” With a little help from our lackluster national economy and other factors, seniors are reliving the big city dreams that Rothman tried so desperately to escape from.

An interesting question to consider- If baby-boomers, our largest population group on the verge of seniority, flock back to cities because of economics, how does this change the dynamics of places like Chicago? Let’s speculate for a moment.

Social Security liberated seniors. It allowed them to choose where they would retire rather than settling in the spare bedrooms of their children’s households. As Early Bird observed, Florida became the Mecca for retirees due to the invention of bug spray, a massive swamp-draining project that created new communities after World War II, and smart city planning. It was marketed to an age group. Cities have always been marketed to the youth (see Richard Florida), but what we fail to realize is that baby-boomers will not live comfortably as their parents did in retirement. The average Social Security payment for an elderly couple is $19,776 per year. Expenses for elders who need some kind of long-term care can add $7,320 in annual expenses to a senior’s budget, and more aggressive care, with or without adult day health services, can add more than $40,000 in annual costs, according to a report by the University of Massachusetts Gerontology Institute in Boston.

Developers in Chicago are doing what their elders did in Florida 50 years ago. They’re selling cities as the new liberation. Chicago boasts the most senior citizens on the internet. Seniors in the Windy City recently got what they want in mass transit free rides through successful debate with Chicago’s city council. Newspapers called it an “unexpected win.” They’re obviously not reading the other newspapers. Read this article which provides testimonials from seniors in Chicago, claiming that they’re having “the time of their lives.”

A transformation is definitely happening but the young have nothing to fear. Seniors are a little more hip these days than in generations past – at least to pop-culture standards. The kids you saw at Woodstock, knee deep in mud and quality marijuana, are now in their sixties. They vote for Clinton, which maybe isn’t as “rock star” as Obama, but at least it’s not as Everly Brothers as John McCain (to be fair to the Arizona senator, his daughter confirms he listens to Lauryn Hill). They’re more connected and less secluded than the generation who moved south to “get away from it all.” What’s the worst that could happen? A sound curfew? Chicago is one of those cities that actually goes to sleep – at 10pm, you won’t find anything open.

Three years ago, MSNBC reported that: “The city [Chicago] is their oyster,” says Mark Muro, a senior policy analyst with the Brookings Institution. “They’re the ones that can really enjoy the full range of nightlife and cultural offers.” During the next decade the number of Americans over the age of 50 — today an estimated 84 million — is expected to triple, leaving many urban areas with new, thriving populations of people in their golden years.”

The projected growth of retiree populations in metropolitan areas in the next ten years?

Minneapolis: 94 percent
Austin, Texas: 92 percent
Atlanta: 80 percent
Denver: 78 percent


In other Chicago news, prepare to gasp – there’s a foreclosure bus tour, carting around gawkers and homebuyers in an effort to unload. This is for real.

“Foreclosure Home Bus Tour: View foreclosures on the market in Sandwich, Somonauk, Sheridan and Plano. Light lunch provided after tour.”

“To the realtors and mortgage company sponsoring this tour on Saturday and Sunday, it’s another marketing tool, a way to survive in an industry hit hard by the struggling economy. Banks need to get rid of homes. Buyers and investors are looking for the best deals. realtors and mortgage brokers need to pay their bills, just like the rest of us … Problem is, for some people the ad is a slap in the face — and for all of us a bitter reminder that someone’s financial opportunity is another’s personal tragedy.”

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