A New Spin on Senior Living

Paula Span, New York Times, March 25, 2016

Ram and Geeta Chandran had always planned to move into a senior community after they retired. The couple had no children, and “we knew we had to move to a retirement community so we wouldn’t be lonely in a huge house,” said Geeta Chandran, 72, a family physician.

Then they came across an online ad for ShantiNiketan, a planned 55-plus community in Tavares, Fla., designed for Indian-Americans. (The name, in Sanskrit, means “peaceful home.”)

The Chandrans, who had emigrated from India in 1970, found the prospect of aging with others from their home country appealing.

Indian immigrants who came to the United States in the 1960s and ’70s for educational and work opportunities have begun to downsize and contemplate their postcareer years, said Iggy Ignatius, 60, ShantiNiketan’s chairman. “Many people were thinking they’d go back to India, but pragmatically, it’s not possible,” he said. “Our children are here. Our grandchildren are here.”

In Florida, from the architecture that reminds Dr. Chandran of Chennai, India, to the vegetarian meals and Bollywood dance classes, “we have created a mini-India, a piece of India,” Mr. Ignatius said.

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Developers call these kinds of housing options “affinity group communities,” said Robert G. Kramer, chief executive of the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing and Care, an industry research group.

In addition to those established by and for members of religious groups, they include retirement communities for military officers, for gays and lesbians, and for the alumni of particular colleges and universities.

Facilities for specific ethnic groups have appeared more recently, but “I think we’ll see more of them,” Mr. Kramer said. “We’re such a polyglot culture.”

Among those already in operation:

■ Aegis Gardens, a 64-unit Chinese-American assisted living complex in Fremont, Calif., opened in 2001. With a staff that speaks Mandarin and Cantonese, daily tai chi sessions and a Chinese chef, it maintains nearly 100 percent occupancy, said Dwayne Clark, the chief executive of Aegis Living.

So the company, which operates 30 assisted living facilities on the West Coast, is building a second Chinese-American facility, a $50 million independent living, assisted living and memory care campus in Newcastle, Wash., scheduled to open next year.

Monthly rents are likely to start at $5,300, executives said, not including help with the activities of daily living.

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■ In Queens, a small nonprofit group called India Home runs “culturally appropriate” senior center programs for South Asian immigrants. The Desi Senior Center in Jamaica, Queens, for example, attracts older Bangladeshis with hot halal lunches, English instruction and a screen separating men from women in exercise classes.

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As for Latinos, “I expect to see the first Hispanic facilities in Southern California and the Southwest,” said Mr. Kramer of the National Investment Center.

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