Few housing options for central Vermont retirees
By ART EDELSTEIN
Correspondent | April 02,2013
Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo
Residents gather for an afternoon visit at Westview Meadows in Montpelier on Friday. Clockwise from top right are: Wolfe Schmokel, Julio Lavin, Jan Spinks, Hannah Wasserman, Alban Richey, Edith Kent and Margaret Richey.
If you are in or nearing retirement and want to move to a local retirement community, few opportunities are available in central Vermont. Only two establishments, one in Montpelier and the other in Stowe, offer retirement living in the form of apartments that can be purchased with amenities suitable to active seniors. Westview Meadows at Montpelier and Copley Woodlands of Stowe are the area’s sole properties dedicated to this living arrangement.
The type of retirement community discussed here does not include assisted living, which is for people who need help with the activities of daily living, such as dressing, eating and bathing, and cannot safely live alone. Neither does it include nursing homes.
Vermont does support retirement community living, but these communities are primarily in the Champlain Valley, Chittenden County and southern Vermont — not in central Vermont, defined here as Washington, Lamoille and Orange counties.
Westview Meadows — owned by OM Fisher Homes Inc., which also operates the Gary Home on Main Street in Montpelier — is nine years old. The complex has 36 independent living apartments and 16 residential care apartments. Executive Director Dawn Provost said 50 people are on the waiting list for apartments. Currently three apartments are available, the first time for such availability since opening. Normally there is a year’s wait for an apartment, she said.
For retirees, Westview offers five different sized apartments ranging from a one-bedroom with one bath to two bedrooms and two baths, with a den. Each comes with a fully equipped kitchen. Apartments are purchased at a cost ranging from $150,500 to $249,500 depending on size. There is a monthly maintenance fee of $1,715 to $2,300 depending on size. Eighty percent of the purchase price is returned when an apartment is sold.
At Westview 60 percent of residents come from Vermont, most from the local area, Provost said. Forty percent are out-of-staters. These new residents, she said, “moved here to be close to their children who live here.”
While the monthly maintenance fee for an apartment may seem steep to some, when costs of owning a home are considered, said Provost, the fee is realistic. “You have to look at your living expenses and see what you get here, and for a majority of people it’s cheaper to live here,” she said. Residents, she said, won’t have to pay for heat, snow removal, cable television and housekeeping, and one meal a day is provided. Residents do have to buy renter’s insurance, amounting to “about 25 percent of homeowner’s insurance.”
What makes Westview attractive to retirees, said Provost, is “security with a secure building and friendships.” According to her, it is a place “with people who are active in their communities and a few who still work.”
“The primary reason people move here is that people want to retire, relax. It’s what you saved your money for,” she said. “These are people who do not want to worry about leaving their home empty while they are away traveling.”
Provost sees trends in her industry that may not be favorable. “More and more people are waiting to move into communities like this,” she said. “They wait for either a health problem or a house problem before moving.”
She does not see much competition in the central Vermont area from new retirement communities. What is affecting her industry is companies providing home health products and devices so seniors can stay in their homes.
The other nearby community for active retirees is in Stowe. Copley Woodlands has 40 units and provides on-site services including one meal a day in a dining room, scheduled van transportation, recreational, cultural and fitness activities, housekeeping, maintenance, night security and personal services coordination.
The facility opened in 1998; its units cost between $165,000 and $210,000.
Currently 10 units are unoccupied. Penny Davis, the executive director, said the relatively large number of unoccupied units is due to deaths, the stock market dropping in value, and the generally weak economy.
There the monthly maintenance fee is $1,823 for single occupancy and $2,430 for double occupancy. The fee includes all utilities, transport and outings. Units are also available to rent at a monthly cost of $1,656 with a service fee of $1,823 or $2,430 monthly, depending on occupancy.
Cost is an important factor in who can move to a community like Copley or Westview. “I would think you have to be upper income to be able to afford to live here,” said Davis. “The people here are primarily professional people.”
Davis said the common thread bringing residents to Copley was that they had family nearby.
A retirement community like Copley Woodlands or Westview Meadows may not be affordable for a large number of central Vermonters. “Private-market retirement communities, and affordable retirement housing as well, depend on some level of scale to offer services, which is why we don’t see as many facilities in rural areas or small cities,” said Sarah Carpenter with the Vermont Housing Finance Agency.
Accountants say it is difficult to figure exactly how much money a person needs to purchase a unit at these facilities. But, they agree, a reasonably sized bank account is needed.
“Without savings they’d have to have a few hundred a month for incidentals, and then medical expenses is the big one plus travel and personal enjoyment expenses,” said Jeff Fothergill in Montpelier. He sees the inclusive cost of these units as limiting outside expenses to “what you want for your personal life. Probably everything else is covered.”
Fothergill does not think people living primarily on Social Security can afford Westview or Copley. He does not see this form of retirement living as “realistic for folks without other income sources and substantial savings. It’s a matrix between savings and income sources like Social Security and pensions.”
Donald Shannon, a Barre accountant, was more specific. “You’d have to have $300,000 available and invest it in the stock market to be able to pay the monthly fee. You can’t have money only in saving accounts. You won’t get enough in interest.”