South Florida, which 40 years ago gave birth to senior citizen icons such as the early bird special and condo commando, is a retirement mecca no more, according to new Census statistics released Wednesday.
"As we have become a congested urban environment, we have become less attractive to retirees," said Dick Ogburn, an analyst with the South Florida Regional Planning Council.
The Sunshine State still has appeal, however, retaining the highest percentage of senior residents in the country, with 17.3 percent older than age 65 in 2010.
Fourteen Broward cities lost a total of 11,685 senior residents in the past decade, led by Hallandale Beach with a 24 percent decrease and Tamarac with 21 percent. Among cities with the largest senior populations in Palm Beach County, Boca Raton gained 19 percent in its 65-and-older residents, while Boynton Beach lost 7 percent and Delray Beach, 8 percent.
Ogburn has been predicting the shift for the past 20 years. In the previous decade, from 1990 to 2000, Palm Beach County's 65-plus population grew 25 percent while Broward's basically flatlined, with a 1.4 percent increase.
Ogburn suspects the two counties never will return to their retirement migration heydays of the 1950s through '70s, when thousands of transplants poured into newly built condo complexes each year. While nice weather and good medical care are important, retirees looking to relocate also seek affordable housing, light traffic and low crime, experts agree.
When that changes, they either stop arriving or move on to other communities that offer those amenities, said Scott Cody, demographer for the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Florida.
Surprisingly, Miami-Dade County has bucked the trend, showing a 17 percent increase in 65-and-older residents in the past 10 years. Ogburn credited two possible factors: wealthy seniors who remain attracted to the area's tony beachfront communities, and Cuban and Caribbean immigrants who have flocked there over the years and now are aging.
And while some Broward and Palm Beach cities now have fewer senior residents, many still retain vibrant retirement communities, which boosts their 65-plus population percentage high above the 13 percent national average. In Tamarac, where 38 percent of the population was 65 or older in 2000, seniors continued to make up 28 percent of the population in 2010. In Palm Beach County, seniors made up well over 50 percent of the population in the small communities of Briny Breezes, Golf, South Palm Beach and Highland Beach.
But in general, retirement communities have spread north up the state's east coast and into Central Florida. Sumter County, about an hour northwest of Orlando, almost tripled its senior population in the past 10 years. It now claims 40,350 residents in the 65-plus range, almost half of the county's population.
Most live in The Villages, a development of retirement "towns" that's sprawled across 26,000 acres in three counties. It features a low-key, leisure lifestyle, where golf carts are the primary transportation, and residents have access to more than 100 restaurants, 1,800 activity clubs, even a hospital.
Gary Lester, vice president for community relations, said new Villages homeowners most often come from other Florida cities: In the past 10 years, 472 homes were sold to former Fort Lauderdale residents alone.
"We offer them a lot to do in a safe, affordable place," he said.
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