Developers are taking different paths, and measured steps, to accommodate Orange County’s graying population.
OC has the oldest population of any county in Southern California, with a median age of a little more than 36, according to the latest demographic reports.

The median age here has increased by nearly three years over the past decade, giving OC a median age almost two years older than in Los Angeles and 1.5 years older than the San Diego area.

Nearly 17% of OC’s 3 million residents currently are above the age of 60, a percentage that’s also among the top for California counties, according to 2010 census data.

That ratio should be ratcheting up over the next decade.

OC’s 60-and-over population is expected to see a 64% increase between 2005 and 2020, according to the California Department of Finance’s census projections.

But for a region that saw development of two of the first major planned retirement communities in the country—Leisure World in Seal Beach and Laguna Woods Village, both created in the 1960s—relatively little headway has been made in recent years in terms of housing projects targeting older residents.

Homebuilders are adding wrinkles to accommodate seniors in otherwise traditional housing projects and in some cases are building new age-restricted communities within those developments. Those include the 285-home active-adult community called Gavilan going up in Sendero, a new development under construction near San Juan Capistrano on Rancho Mission Viejo LLC land.

But new housing offerings for seniors requiring more hands-on care appear to be relatively scarce across much of OC.

“There hasn’t been a senior living community (in the Newport Beach area) in 20 years,” said Cory Alder, president of Santa Ana-based developer Nexus Cos.


Nexus thinks the market is ripe for such housing, especially considering OC’s base of wealthy residents. The company last month broke ground on such a project near the border of Newport Beach and Costa Mesa, a $62 million development called Vivante on the Coast.

The high-end, 184-unit project is targeting aging local residents wanting a coastal home in proximity to Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian, as well as wealthy area residents who want their parents living nearby. Monthly rents for a majority of the units at Vivante—which range from studios of about 450 square feet to two-bedroom units nearing 1,200 square feet—start near $4,000 and run to nearly $7,000.

Residents get living amenities such as an indoor saltwater pool, rooftop lounges, a coffee bar, hair salon, fitness center, entertainment room for kids and dining areas featuring a sushi bar and wood-fired pizza oven. The community also facilitates close ties to Hoag’s nearby health services for its residents.

“We’re delivering a higher level of care,” said Alder, who believes the project will compete with older senior housing projects such as MBK Real Estate Ltd.’s 84-unit Crown Cove in Corona del Mar.

Nexus initially planned for-sale condos at the Monrovia Avenue site but changed course when that market soured. Alder—whose company is eyeing similar projects in Palm Springs and perhaps Los Angeles and Northern California—got strong support from local leaders for Vivante.

That hasn’t always been the case elsewhere.

A 7.3-acre Tustin site eyed as a senior living facility by the Catholic Diocese of Orange is in limbo after neighborhood groups challenged the project in courts.

Its vacant Newport Avenue site was once set for a church, but about nine years ago the diocese opted to create a faith-based senior community instead.


The development—called The Springs at Bethsaida—was slated for 79 independent living units, 55 assisted-living units and 19 bungalows, with Carlsbad-based Kisco Senior Living set to run the project. But community leaders protesting the site’s rezoning to senior housing got a court ruling in March to halt the project, which is a few blocks from an existing senior living center.

The diocese, which has owned the land since 1956, hasn’t announced whether it will challenge the ruling.
Elsewhere, a development at Lambert Ranch in Irvine targets families of older residents leery of moving into senior-care facilities.

The New Home Co. of Aliso Viejo is building homes designed to accommodate multiple generations of family members in one residence.

The development offers nine floor plans featuring a variety of guest spaces designed for aging parents. Some of the designs feature a smaller, stand-alone residence built next to the main house.

The builder said the project offers “multigenerational living, space-sharing, and seamless movement between residences.”