Retirement means everything but slowing down at the Jefferson in Arlington, Va., a vibrant senior community where residents are thrilled to age in place.
By Kiara Candelaria©2019 Community Associations Institute
WHEN 84-YEAR-OLD RETIRED NURSE Julia Jeffries made in Place the decision to leave her townhouse in Washington, D.C., three years ago, she wanted a community in a good location that was within her price range, with appropriate accommodations and access to services that would allow her to continue living independently.
After considering at least five other communities in the D.C. area, including assisted living and continuing- care retirement communities, she selected the Jefferson, a 55-and-older condominium in Arlington, Va. It checked all of her boxes and gave her an extra one she hadn't initially considered: The ability to own her home for the very first time.
“My husband and I always wanted to age in place and that was afforded here better than any place that I visited. I didn't like the (other options) because I couldn't figure out how to get my money back," says Jeffries.
More and more, older adults favor aging in place instead of moving to retirement communities. According to AARP's 2018 Home and Community Preferences survey, 77% of Americans age 50 and older say they would like to live in their community as long as possible, but just 59% anticipate being able to do so.
Making itself a community where older adults can live long term is something that the Jefferson has made a priority for its close to 400 residents, including about a dozen centenarians. Around a quarter of residents move to the condominium from out of state, notes Executive Director Juli Swanson.
Residents have the option to purchase their home without any buy-in fees beyond the price of the unit, the only senior community in the area with this distinction, says Swanson. Units in the community can be rented, as well; about 45 of the community's 325 units are leased.
“All of our competitors are either a continuing-care retirement community or a life-care community. That's just a very different structure than what we have here with the condo," explains Swanson, who has led the Jefferson for the past eight years. “At all those other places, you don't get to own your home. Here at the Jefferson, you do. That's one of the biggest selling points, after location."
Centrally located in Arlington's reinvigorated Ballston neighborhood, the high-rise condominium made up of two 21-story towers is just one block away from the Ballston Metro station and bus bay and a short distance from various restaurants and entertainment options.
That was the main draw for Therese “Terri" Rae, a 75-year-old retired psychiatric nurse who has lived at the Jefferson for the past two years. She and her husband moved to the community from nearby Falls Church after their knee problems made it difficult to climb the stairs of their townhouse.
“We chose this one basically for the location and the ownership," says Rae, who volunteers on various committees inside the Jefferson and remains active outside the community, too.
Rae has made it a point to take advantage of all the amenities and activities inside the community.
Amenities include an indoor heated swimming pool, an on-site fitness center, a computer lab, a library, a game room, lounge areas, and an outdoor terrace to soak up the sun in the warmer months. In addition, the condominium has a constantly varying program of social, educational, and recreational activities for its residents, including trips to cultural venues and museums in the District.
Rae also points to the vibrancy of the area. “Sometimes, when you go to a senior place, … all you see is seniors. (Here,) all you have to do is go out the front door, and there are 'juniors,' as well."
“You never feel lonely here. It's just so wonderful when you sit down to eat with different people, and they tell you their life story."
The Jefferson was built nearly three decades ago as one of Marriott International's senior-living services communities.
“They were one of the first major hostelries thinking about senior people, so they built a hotel that was amenable to seniors and built in two floors of healthcare facilities," says Lincoln “Linc" Cummings, former president of the Jefferson Homeowners Association's board, a member of CAI since 1973, and a CAI past president.
The influence of Marriott remains. There's a classy feel to the condo's east and west lobbies, a spacious common area where residents can enjoy conversation with friends and family, and a large dining room where on-site kitchen staff prepare seasonal meals each day.
In 2005, Sunrise Senior Living took over management from Marriott after the company decided to divest that part of its business. Sunrise is responsible for the services provided in the community, including healthcare, dining, transportation, weekly housekeeping, and linen services—all paid through a monthly service fee.
On the healthcare side, the Jefferson offers assisted living, memory care, skilled nursing, and rehabilitation services for residents who need them. “The one change that happened after Sunrise took over is that we changed the skilled nursing and rehab from a part long-term, part short-term rehab to almost 100% short-term rehab," Swanson notes.
There's also the benefit of having part of the Jefferson's staff be on-site so that they can tend to the needs of residents 24 hours a day. Management keeps an up-to-date form that lists residents' emergency contacts, next of kin, health conditions, and prescriptions, Cummings notes. Owners can reach staff in case of an emergency through a system that is integrated with pendants they wear around their necks.
The Jefferson Homeowners Association, on the other hand, manages the rules and regulations in the community, addressing things like noise complaints and architectural changes to the balconies. Residents pay the association a monthly assessment for maintenance and repair of the common areas and also pay 20% of equipment replacement and repair expenses for the rest of the condominium.
Since the Jefferson was conceived around the needs of older adults, Cummings says there haven't been major structural adjustments needed to allow residents to age in place. “They (Marriott) were forward-thinking. They were incredibly insightful in that the designed standards of this building far exceeded what was necessary at the time," he adds.
The association is focusing on preventive maintenance and upgrades to certain elements, such as renovating the elevators. “We have incurred multiple millions of dollars of catch-up, and today we are very close to approaching a new condition of a quarter-century old building," Cummings boasts.
One of Swanson's recent priorities with the Jefferson board has been fully digitizing processes and communications. “I used to do a lot of memos. I would love to not do that anymore and just post everything online," she says.
The community's new digital efforts include a system that tracks work orders, television screens in the common areas that display information about activities and other community updates, and soon-to- be implemented digital menus in the dining room. In addition, the Jefferson set up a Google group that is open to staff members and residents where everyone can post daily updates, upcoming projects, renovations, changes in activities, and “anything real time," she says.
“We have newer, younger folks who are moving in who want information on their phones immediately. The older generation did not care about that and were happy with weekly or monthly paper updates. Not anymore. It's real time and digital, so we're trying to integrate that everywhere in the community," says Swanson. “I do recognize that we have plenty of folks who are not there yet, but it's a big push for us."
In addition, the Jefferson wants to establish partnerships with the Ballston area. Cummings says that they have been in touch with the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing for the Jefferson to be, as he notes, “a good neighbor, to have an intergenerational connection," with the community's future residents.
This means opening the Jefferson's doors to them and establishing activities and programs that can benefit a broader, younger population, which they anticipate will include many single-parent households with young children.
With all the activities and amenities available to them, retirement means anything but slowing down for Jefferson residents. The community has been so successful because many of its residents want to keep active and volunteer.
The 82-year-old George Meek has been secretary of the Jefferson Homeowners Association board for the past three years. He and his wife moved from a townhouse community about five blocks away.
A retired journalist who worked for Voice of America, Meek says that he enjoys “the opportunity to serve."
He oversees the meeting minutes, maintains the association's records, and is available for any special assignments for what he calls “my perpetual cruise ship."
One of the longest serving volunteers is Vilma Oxenford, a 90-year-old who has lived in the community for nearly a decade. She moved to the Jefferson from New Jersey, where she worked as a teacher and a principal, after her husband passed away, because her son lives in the area. The main draw was the location, the activities, and the ability to go to Washington, D.C. “I lived very close to New York, so I'm used to a city life," she says.
Oxenford volunteers on several committees. She helped establish a direction for the health and wellness committee, which coordinates activities at the community's wellness center. She also helps organize the collection drives for the Jefferson's 230 staff members.
In lieu of tipping workers for individual services, Oxenford says the community has a collection drive twice a year for residents to give extra cash to staff members, depending on how long they have worked there. Residents have been very generous. One of the most successful drives generated a total of $150,000.
Other events that are coordinated for the staff and their children include Easter egg hunts and thrift sales, where residents donate their clothing or appliances to sell to workers for just $1 each.
When asked what she enjoys the most about volunteering, Oxenford says, “I'm just a person who likes to keep busy, (especially when it's) something that I think is worthwhile."
Besides the food, the organized trips to grocery stores and shopping centers, and the opportunity to go to events, residents feel that the frequent socialization is one of the main aspects that allows them to feel at home in the Jefferson.
The 103-year-old Vera Punke has lived in the community for nine years. Before then, she lived in Pompano Beach, Fla. She appreciates being closer to her daughter, who lives in Ashburn, Va., and her grandchildren and great-grandchildren without having to fly in from Florida. “It's a nice area here, with wonderful people," she beams. “I like the companionship, besides the food."
Similarly, what Jeffries enjoys most about living at the Jefferson is the ability to talk to people without needing to hop in a car and drive somewhere.
“You never feel lonely here. It's just so wonderful when you sit down to eat with different people, and they tell you their life story. It's very different, in that way. The thing that brings everyone together here, I found, is them having families located around here that they can visit with and maintain contact with."
Rae perfectly captures what it's like to live at the Jefferson: “We have independence, and if we want company, we've got it. And that's the best thing."
Kiara Candelaria is associate editor of Common Ground magazine.
THE JEFFERSON in Arlington, Va., offers older adults a unique option as they age in place: the ability to own their condominium unit plus independent living, skilled nursing, and continuing care. High-end amenities, numerous activities, a maintenance-free lifestyle, and quick access to the cultural highlights of Washington, D.C., add to the community's appeal.
How does the Jefferson compare to continuing-care retirement communities?
Continuing-care retirement communities provide a tiered approach to the aging process, being part independent living, part assisted living, and part nursing home, according to AARP. Through continuing-care communities, healthy adults can reside in a single-family home, apartment, or condominium and then move into assisted living or nursing care as their needs change. The communities typically decide when residents need assisted living, which doesn't happen at the Jefferson.
These communities are the most expensive of long-term care options, requiring a high entrance fee in addition to monthly charges. The fees are dependent on the resident's health, the type of housing they choose, whether they rent or buy, and the type of service contract. AARP notes that there are three basic types of contracts:
LIFE CARE OR EXTENDED CONTRACT. The most expensive option that offers unlimited assisted living, medical treatment, and skilled nursing care without additional charges.
MODIFIED CONTRACT. Offers a set of services provided for a specific length of time. When it expires, other services can be obtained but for higher monthly fees.
FEE- FOR-SERVICE CONTRACT. The initial enrollment fee may be lower, but assisted living and skilled nursing will be paid for at their market rates. —K.C.
What can community association board members and managers do about the increasing number of residents aging in place? Face the challenge together. Read A Place to Age for tips on generational differences, diversity, financial issues, health issues, the need for services, changing your governing documents, and more. By Ellen Hirsch de Haan, Esq.
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