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Bridgewater says she prefers apartment living because she doesn’t have to worry about the upkeep of her home, it’s taken care of for her.

Worry-free living

Seniors say apartments are simpler abodes

Photos by Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
Shirley Bridgewater stands in the living room of her apartment at Ryker Reserve, a northeast senior complex.

– In a small puddle of water near the door that leads into his garage sit Karl Lanning’s unlaced boots which, an hour or so earlier, were covered in snow – like everything else these days.

“I dunno about you, but I’m getting pretty weary of this,” Lanning says as he throws his stocking feet onto his leather ottoman.

He refers to the present unrelenting winter, with its low temperatures and high snow banks.

“I’m done shoveling snow.”

More than 20 years divorced and alone – and liking it that way – Lanning, 66, has made up his mind that he’s putting his rural home up for sale and that he’s ready to move into an apartment or duplex or a condominium. He’s not certain which.

What he does say with certainty is that he has had his fill of cutting grass, trimming hedges, raking leaves, painting bedrooms and home repairs, in general.

“It’s time to put my feet up,” he says, with his feet up.

He’s about to join the crowd.

While home ownership retains its status as the symbolic American Dream, multifamily units are becoming more desirable. And it’s not just for the upwardly mobile 20-somethings. Empty-nesters whose children have moved out long ago are considering leaving those very same nests.

“The longer term outlook is especially positive for multifamily construction, reflecting the aging of the baby boomers and an associated shift in demand from single-family to multifamily housing,” wrote Kansas City Fed senior economist Jordan Rappaport in a recent issue of the bank’s Economic Review. “By the end of the decade, multifamily construction is likely to peak at a level nearly two-thirds higher than its highest annual level during the 1990s and 2000s.”

New apartment construction is on the increase. In 2011, 167,000 new units went up around the country, according to a report written by Stephen S. Fuller, Ph.D., with the National Multi Housing Council. The number jumped to 230,000 a year later.

The report says the 19.3 million apartment units in the United States may be insufficient to meet the demands of a population that is moving out of their single-family homes.

“There has been a long-running change in what constitutes the ‘typical’ American household,” writes Fuller. “For generations, married couples with children dominated our housing markets. The demographic trend, combined with public policy encouraging the development of our nation’s intricate highway system, contributed to explosive suburban growth. But those households have fallen from 44 percent of all households in 1960 to just 20 percent today, and that number continues to decrease.”

With more individuals choosing to rent comes more competition within the apartment industry, which leads to more amenities such as exercise rooms, fireplaces, on-site movie viewing rooms and attached garages. Much of the increase stems from renters 55 and older.

“They don’t want to take care of their houses or their yards and all that kind of stuff,” said Tammy Brandt, president of the Apartment Association of Fort Wayne-Northeast Indiana, which represents more than 20,000 units. “So they’re moving into duplexes, where they have an attached garage, and we take care of their yards and snow removal. They’re not responsible for any of that.”

Shirley Bridgewater is 70, retired, and content in her one-bedroom apartment in Ryker Reserve, a northeast senior complex that opened last year.

“I looked at the apartments and just loved them,” says Bridgewater, a 29-year employee at Parkview Hospital.

“I have a one-bedroom, and it’s a beautiful apartment, and I overlook a courtyard. I never had an apartment that was quite this size.

“And everything is done for us here. It’s easier. I’m speaking for me, but I feel healthier because I don’t have to worry about if the furnace is going out and am I going to have enough money for that. Everything is provided here.”

Which is exactly what Lanning has in mind.

“I don’t mind cutting the grass now and then,” he says. “But I don’t want to be on a ladder and cleaning out gutters when I’m 75.”