Business, Change Agents, City Transformation, Development, Medical, neighborhood growth, Neighborhoods, News

City seniors: Will the legions of the newly retired represent Detroit’s next population boom?


Editor’s Note: Prior to and during the upcoming Detroit Regional Chamber’s Detroit Policy Conference, Detroit Unspun/TheHUB will bring you stories that showcase the transformation of our city’s neighborhoods.

By Bill Johnson and Karen Dybis 

As part of the activity and excitement surrounding Detroit’s reformation, policymakers and planners would be wise to consider transforming Detroit into a world-class “age-friendly” community. The prospect of putting Detroit on course to be repopulated with a rich mix of young, middle age and older residents – coexisting and prospering – is nothing short of amazing.

So nothing currently under consideration is more intriguing than rolling out the red carpet to the legions of seniors who may be ready to give up the oversized suburban house, downsize, relocate and retire in an inviting and receptive urban core. And many cities, particularly in the southern and western United States, have taken steps to accommodate and share in the wealth of the “new elderly.” Detroit has the same opportunity.

“A lot of it is about shifting preferences. Things that are appealing to everybody are also appealing to older adults too,” says Frank Rockwood, co-founder of Rockwood Pacific, a real estate services firm tightly focused on senior housing and healthcare.

“Cities are attractive because of all of their urban amenities, and we’re finding that they’re also attractive to older populations,” he says.

Robert Thornton, a program officer at the Skillman Foundation, exhibits the kind of real city energy and enthusiasm that is calling others home to Detroit

Robert Thornton, a program officer at the Skillman Foundation, exhibits the kind of real city energy and enthusiasm that is calling others home to Detroit

It is well established that in less than 15 years, some 72 million people will join the ranks of what’s being called the “silver tsunami.” The baby boom generation – those born between 1946 and 1964 – are politically astute, have deep pockets and a life expectancy well into their mid-80s.

“Across the country and throughout Michigan, these boomers are entering a second phase of their lives with every intention of living life to the fullest,” says Tom E. Kimble, president of AARP (American Association of Retired People) Michigan.

Some are contemplating a scaled-down lifestyle. But he says they won’t compromise their desire to relocate in “lively” venues where they can be physically active and socially engaged.

“They want to make a difference in their communities, use their acquired talents and skills and will locate to those places that provide those opportunities,” says Kimble, a retired GM executive. He believes a concentrated focus on making Detroit a retirement “hot spot” has immediate and far-reaching benefits.

“With about 70-percent of the nation’s disposable income seniors are the wealthiest age group in the country, which makes them an important economic demographic,” he says. For example, they attend cultural events and other community activities more frequently than younger people with less disposable income.


While most of Detroit’s “Work, Play, Live” marketing has focused on millennials, a growing number of groups within the housing, medical and transportation industries in Michigan are working diligently to convey the message that Detroit and neighboring cities are upbeat hubs for people of all ages, particularly mature adults.

That means highlighting new ways of getting around, including the excitement surrounding the M-1 Rail project that connects downtown Detroit to Midtown. It includes upscale mixed-use housing, retail and entertainment blockbuster developments such as The District, which will house the new Detroit Red Wings Hockey stadium and other venues near Brush Park in Detroit.

It also centers on metro Detroit’s impressive medical facilities, research investments and world-class services in areas of particular concern to mature adults. The region’s healthcare centers including Beaumont, Detroit Medical Center, Henry Ford Health System, St. John Providence and others are investing in state-of-the-art programs in cardiac, cancer, neurology, orthopedics and other fields of interest to aging bodies.

These medical facilities also are working with area foundations to create programs to help senior citizens and their families with every aspect of the aging process. That ranges from assessment centers that help determine an elderly family member’s level of care to elder-focused units within their facilities to investments in social-services organizations to ensure seniors’ social, mental and emotional needs are met throughout these years.

“There’s a large number of organizations here focused on the well-being of older adults. There are numerous partnerships, especially between nonprofits, foundations and government agencies,” says Vincent Tilford, executive director of Detroit’s Hannan Foundation, which provides help, housing, access to fitness services and more to the city’s senior population.

These medical centers can also be attractive places for seniors to volunteer and remain socially engaged. If they live close to the hospital or mass transportation can get them there, that idea becomes all that more attractive.

“The big priorities are transportation, housing and healthcare. These issues are urgent and important. If you look at the statistics, thousands of baby boomers are turning 65. They’re starting to retire. It’s huge. And it’s something that we as a society need to understand and be ready to address,” Tilford says.


Native Detroiters Marsha and Charlie Gabriel love Detroit. Friends hope the couple might someday return back home from their current New Orleans residence


The opportunities for economic development and investment are huge.

Take a look at the little town of Gig Harbor, WA. It’s new senior living facility will create nearly 160 new jobs, add $6.3 million in new employee f with taxes and benefits to its base and, food and supplies for the 350+ residents will add approximately $1 million in its base year. In addition, construction will include 40 direct vendors and specialty subcontractors from the surrounding areas and between 100 and 200 construction personnel will work onsite.

In addition, the small city, which was named number five out of 20 as one of the best small towns in America by, will add a host of additional services and amenities, including restaurant-style dining, a fitness center, wellness programs, and social, cultural and educational opportunities. The community will be within walking distance of the Gig Harbor YMCA, city parks and walking trails, as well as near the Harbor Hill retail center which includes Costco, Target and a growing number of stores and restaurants.

It is a new residential housing model that can work in Detroit and is well worth the investment. Look at the statistics.

Sometime in the few years there will be more people over 65 living in southeast Michigan than those 18 and under. In fact, according to the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) about 24 percent of the region’s population will be retirement age or more by 2040.

SEMCOG says the number of baby boomers living in the city could jump by 42 percent in the next 25 years.

Many of these seniors who want to live in an urban environment may well find themselves fighting the millennials for space. There are millions of them and many of them still live at home and are chomping at the bit to get out on their own.

They want the same thing. Urban Land magazine points out that years ago seniors were happy with a 400- and 500-sq.-ft. studio apartment or a 700-sq. ft. one-bedroom unit. Today they want more space and to live in vibrant, walkable places and they don’t want the isolation of a traditional retirement community. They want to live where there are intergenerational activities.

Like the millennials, they will also demand grocery stores, parks, banks and clinics within walking distance and mass transportation. That opens the door for further investment in the city of Detroit to accommodate the needs of both generations.

That growing trend has resulted in a renewed interest among real-estate investors and developers in building senior-friendly housing. Local news reports show that there are more than 20 new developments either recently completed, in the process or on the horizon that offer affordable, mid-range and high-end housing options for people over 55.

Rivertown is a senior residence in Detroit that is a partnership between Henry Ford Health Care and Presbyterian Village of Michigan. The affordable assisted living complex is in one of two former Parke-Davis manufacturing facilities and a $7.5 million independent senior apartment building with 50 apartments.

The 84-unit Hartford Village Commons (independent living) development, a $15 million joint venture between Presbyterian Villages of Michigan and Hartford Baptist Memorial Church, generated a wait list for the 64 market rate units available in its facility, which also includes dedicated affordable housing Photo courtesy of Presbyterian Villages of Michigan

The 84-unit Hartford Village Commons (independent living) development, a $15 million joint venture between Presbyterian Villages of Michigan and Hartford Baptist Memorial Church, generated a wait list for the 64 market rate units available in its facility, which also includes dedicated affordable housing
Photo courtesy of Presbyterian Villages of Michigan

Another project of note is the partnership between Presbyterian Village of Michigan, a longtime retirement community developer, and PVM and Hartford Memorial Baptist Church Break Ground on Hartford Village Community in Detroit. Hartford Village will offer housing to Detroit seniors that is moderately priced for middle-class families that also is near amenities and churches.

“Up until now, everything we’ve been involved with in the city of Detroit has been serving low-income seniors,” says PVM President and CEO Roger Myers. He says a product aimed at meeting a demand for market-rate housing for moderate-income, life- long Detroiters who want to stay or come back to the city hasn’t existed before.

“The need for safe, affordable housing options for seniors that are in close proximity to important quality of life amenities is a constant topic of discussion among the Wayne County seniors I meet with,” County Executive Wayne Evans said in August when the county announced it was donating $1 million in HOME Funds to the construction of Hartford Village.

Evans and other city officials, community members and business owners celebrated Hartford Village’s groundbreaking in August, the culmination of three years of planning, organizing and fundraising. Pastor Reverend Charles G. Adams said it best: “It took work to do this.” The project, which should begin in the spring, should be finished by early 2017.

Other new developments dot Metro Detroit, especially Oakland County, where the senior population is estimated to reach more than 225,000 by 2020. For example, in the city of Bloomfield Hills Cedarbrook Senior Living describes itself as an upscale development that includes a theater, private dining room called “The Stone Hill Winery” and state-of-the-art wellness and rehab programs.

Making metro Detroit age friendly with community centers, mass transportation, accessible housing, better hospitals, nursing homes and other elder facilities will encourage seniors to stay here. Detroit has some work to do, but with the ongoing transformation of its neighborhoods, it is well on its way to attracting and keeping the baby boomers.

Editor’s Note: This is the first story in our ongoing coverage of how to keep retirees in metro Detroit and ensure they are engaged and active so their knowledge and expertise helps us reimagine our city. Together, we can change Detroit.

About the Author

One comment on “City seniors: Will the legions of the newly retired represent Detroit’s next population boom?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *