Suburbs are working hard to expand their housing options to attract and retain an older population.

Talk with Pete Laviola for a while, and it becomes clear that one size does not fit all on housing options for aging baby boomers and senior citizens in central Ohio's suburbs.

Laviola, 71, and his wife Mary moved to the Columbus region from the Philadelphia area in 2017 to be closer to their daughter, son-in-law and two grandsons. They thought about buying a house or condominium until he came across Powell Grand Communities, Schottenstein Real Estate Group's rental community off Sawmill and Seldom Seen roads in southern Delaware County.

Laviola immediately liked the look of a 1,500-square-foot, two-bedroom, ranch-style rental home there. It also appealed to him that Powell Grand residents are a mix of older people like the Laviolas and young renters, including some with children.

“We were moving from a 55-and-older community,” he says. “It was nice but a little boring at times and kind of cliquish. Being a [retired] teacher, I still enjoy being around kids and seeing some life in the neighborhood.” The Laviolas moved into the Powell Grand ranch home just before Christmas last year. “We're really happy,” he says. “This gives us the freedom to come and go as we please and live very nicely.”

Central Ohio real estate developers say communities with rental options like those at Powell Grand are an increasingly popular choice among empty nesters and seniors looking to downsize and be set free from home maintenance headaches. There also are still plenty of companies building condominiums aimed at older buyers as well as traditional retirement communities that offer independent, assisted-living and memory-care units at one site. It's all about the suburbs ensuring that their older residents looking to age in place have options to their liking.

“It's about communities taking charge and trying to ensure that older residents remain integrated, active and part of a community,” says Kim Sharp, deputy director of planning and development for the city of Westerville. That includes being open to developers focused on senior-friendly projects. For example, National Church Residences recently opened its Inniswood Village community for seniors off Sunbury Road in Westerville. Additionally, Spectrum Retirement Communities' Westerville Senior Living complex off Cooper Road is scheduled to debut in 2019.

Epcon Communities has also been active in Westerville and across the region's northern suburbs where it has been building senior-friendly neighborhoods with ranch-style homes.

Sharp says developers have told Westerville officials that aging baby boomers—those born from 1946 through 1964—and seniors are looking for convenience in their housing. That includes staying close to their church, friends and family and having easy access to Westerville's parks, walking and biking trails and senior-citizens center.

“As [housing] options come forward,” Sharp says, “we need to keep in mind the question of what is a healthy community. Is it enclaves of seclusion or inclusion [for older residents], and what does that mean?”

One certainty is that central Ohio communities will have their hands full in the coming years as their aging populations look for new housing options. There were 252,175 people ages 65 and older across the seven-county central Ohio region in 2017, according to data from the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission. That was an increase of more than 62,000 people compared to 2010 and represented 12.7 percent of the region's population. MORPC Data Manager Liz Whelan says the trend is expected to continue until the youngest of the baby boomers reaches what she calls “older adulthood” around 2025.

Dublin has been seeing strong growth in its 55-and-up population, says Donna Goss, the city's development director. Part of that is due to Dublin offering more housing options that allow baby boomers to downsize while staying in the community on a permanent or seasonal basis.

“We have several neighborhoods in Dublin that allow our seniors to live independently but in close proximity to family that include both apartment and town-house living,” Goss says, pointing to the Asherton and Greystone Mews developments as good examples.

She says baby boomers, just like millennials, are looking for housing in walkable neighborhoods close to parks and dining options. That can be seen in the burgeoning Bridge Park community that is taking shape along the Scioto River in Dublin. It features apartments, condominiums, restaurants, offices, retail stores and a hotel within a short walk of downtown Dublin.

About 50 percent of the apartments are being rented by empty nesters, baby boomers and seniors, says Brent Crawford, principal of Crawford Hoying, the project's developer. They also bought 38 of the Bridge Park's first 41 condos.

“The number one thing is walkability,” Crawford says. “They want to lock their door, walk to a restaurant that is close by and have people around.”

Such a dynamic is important to Dublin as it looks for ways to retain older residents looking to downsize and provide rental housing for younger people who may eventually buy a home in the city. “It's about how you're going to be sustainable long term,” Crawford says. “If you don't have a variety of housing options, your population falls, stores close and real estate values and tax revenue go down. It's a vicious cycle.”

Senior-friendly housing is critical to the development plans at Schottenstein Real Estate Group. Its projects have included rental communities at Powell Grand where the Laviolas live and Northlake Summit in Delaware County's Berkshire Township.

The real estate firm is also developing Jerome Grand at Jacquemin Farms near Dublin. It calls for 300 apartments, a shopping center and assisted-living facility.

“We're trying to capture residents in their 50s to 70s who want to rent as well as young professionals,” says Brian Schottenstein, the firm's president. “Both demographic groups want similar types of amenities.”

The two groups like the flexibility of renting, not having the hassles of home maintenance and living in a well-appointed apartment in the suburbs. Older residents also want to be close to their children and grandchildren.

“We're seeing an influx of [older] people who are renters by choice,” Schottenstein says. “They can have the same features and amenities as a home but don't want the maintenance.” He says older residents have responded well to units that include two first-floor master bedrooms, a two-car garage, screened porch and access to a community garden and fitness center.

“Powell has been supportive of this type of development,” Schottenstein says, “and the need for housing for people who want to age in place.”

Jeff Bell is a freelance writer.