Growing List of Housings Options For Milwaukee Area Seniors

Aug 18, 2014

Developers are building new senior housing throughout the metro area, including in out of the way locations such as this complex near 116th St. in Wauwatosa.
Credit Bob Bach

Senior citizens have lots of options these days when it comes to where to live. The list might even overwhelm some.

Builders in Metro Milwaukee have been crafting new styles of apartments and other units for people aged 60 and over.

Patricia Bruce says her colleagues at Milwaukee’s Interfaith Older Adult Programs field more than 100 calls a month, from people asking about senior housing options.

She says the choices have evolved alongside advances in health care.

“Back in the '70s and '80s, everything was pretty much nursing home –you fell, you broke something, you went into nursing home and a lot of people did not survive heart surgeries, broken hips, knee replacements and things like that," Bruce says. "Then in the '80s and '90s as medicine got better at things like that, people started living longer and there became a natural growth for some form of assisted living."

Sunlight floods the dining room at Laurel Oaks in Glendale.
Credit Bob Bach

Walk in the front door of Laurel Oaks, a retirement complex in Glendale, and the place is bustling.

A receptionist jokes with residents who just finished having coffee in the sun drenched dining room. It still has that new carpet smell.

Adele Lund is with the Laureate Group, which owns several senior housing facilities in the area.

Lund says the marketplace is competitive, and it has spurred innovations for older adults.

“You can have a two bedroom apartment and be in assisted living, or a one bedroom or a studio, depending on your finances," Lund says. "You can have a couple where one is living independently and one needs care. But, instead of having that older adult spouse be the caregiver, they can live independently and have someone else do the caring but they can still be together."

Lund says specialized housing continues expanding. For instance, memory care facilities are opening for people with dementia.

The cost can be pricey, in some cases topping $5,000 a month, but Lund says the market accommodates every budget.

Besides private developers, municipalities often provide subsidized housing for seniors and sometimes offers social and health services on site.

Jon Stibal is director of community development in West Allis. It recently spent millions renovating the Beloit Road Senior Housing complex.

Residents pay no more than 30 percent of their income for rent and Stibal says there’s a one year waiting list.

“When today’s seniors were having kids and the kids grew up, a lot in West Allis would buy a home within a mile or two of mom and dad," Stibal says. "Well now as the seniors are aging, they’re following the path of their kids and they want to stay close to their kids and their church, their friends, and their grocery store."

To help keep seniors in their hometown, local governments can trigger new projects by offering developers incentives, such as tax credits.

The process of choosing where to live can be complicated, according to Stephanie Stein of the Milwaukee County Commission on Aging.

Stein says most seniors want to move, only once. So they need to think long-term.

“At 70, you are probably driving a car, taking care of your grandkids one day a week," Stein says. "Fifteen years later you can’t get to any of the things you wanted to. Entering into senior housing should not be just how am I today, it should be how and where do I want to live for the next 15 or 20 years, and can I afford it, etc."

The Family Caregiver Support Network's free resource center can be reached at 414-220-8600.