What is Independent Living and How Much Should it Cost?

A Comprehensive Guide to Independent Living

Owning a home may be the American dream — but the real work begins once someone becomes a homeowner. Maintenance is perennial. Outdoor upkeep such as yard care and snow removal is a given; indoor upkeep includes cleaning the house, and maintaining (and eventually replacing) expensive appliances such as the refrigerator, hot water heater, dishwasher, or oven.

When we’re in our prime, such responsibilities are simply part and parcel of being a homeowner. In our later years, however, all this labor can become problematic, both in terms of physical capability and cost. Of course, you can always hire professionals to mow the lawn, clean the house, and install or fix appliances. But wouldn’t it be wonderful to just enjoy living in your home, and leave all the upkeep to someone else?

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What Is Independent Living?

Independent living communities (also known as Active Adult Communities, 55+ or 62+ communities, senior living communities, or retirement communities) offer healthy seniors the freedom to enjoy their later years among like-minded adults, minus the hassles of home maintenance. Across the country, there are nearly 2 million senior housing communities, 11% of which are dedicated to providing independent living. This sector in the aging care housing industry has been the fastest-growing over the past 5 years, with 90% occupancy in 2019, far surpassing the rate of spaces being rented in assisted living facilities and nursing homes (both of which have occupancy levels of 86%). These high occupancy rates have been steady throughout the introduction of new independent living communities, and new constructions have increased threefold since 2013, indicating that independent living will continue to fill a need for affordable and safe housing options for seniors.

Among the various types of senior accommodations, independent living options are the least restrictive, supervised, or regulated. As the name implies, residents in independent living settings are able to fully care for themselves. In some settings, such as continuing care retirement communities (CCRC), independent housing is the first step in a spectrum of housing options, while others, like subsidized apartments, are designed for those with limited incomes.

This page will provide an overview of the types of independent living options and a guide to choosing an independent living community that is right for you or your loved one.

Paying for Independent Living

How Much Does Independent Living Cost?

Unlike assisted living and nursing home costs, which are published annually by Genworth Financial, there is little reliable, published pricing information available on independent living. This state-by-state chart showing monthly average cost, minimum cost, and maximum cost for independent living was compiled by SeniorHomes.com:


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North Carolina




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New Hampshire




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Rhode Island




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West Virginia








*SeniorHomes.com 2015

Financial Assistance Options for Independent Living

There are no federally-funded independent living communities, however there is an annual budget of over $2 million allocated to senior services programs through the Administration for Community Living (ACL). This is more than the ACL’s 2015 annual budget of $1.7 billion. These funds are used to pay for meals ($900 million) as well as home and community-based services. Places like senior centers offer help to older adults who want to age-in-place, or in a community specifically for seniors. Programs commonly offered by senior centers and social services programs are:

Daily meals with a community of older adults, often with transportation provided

  • Clinics to maintain wellness such as blood pressure checks and grooming services
  • Senior services management with individual caseworkers for senior center participants

Low-Income / Subsidized Housing

Living in an independent living community can be expensive, and many of today’s seniors face financial struggles. Three out of four seniors report wanting to stay in their homes as they age, benefiting from the savings offered by aging in place, but the reality is that homeownership rates have dropped 5% in recent years, particularly among the 50-64-year-old age group. The number of people over age 60 renting their homes jumped 43% from 2007 to 2017. People living in rural areas tend to have the most challenges finding affordable housing, with 54% of seniors who rent describing themselves as being cost-burdened, according to a recent survey.

As the name implies, subsidized housing offers independent living at reduced rates based upon income levels and disability. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offers benefits to housing groups and apartment owners that provide reduced rents. Under the section 202 housing program, residents are responsible for paying 30% of their income for rent. Visit the HUD resources website to easily search an area for low-income senior housing. These housing complexes often have long waiting lists and strict criteria for residency. Plan accordingly if you think this may be a good option for you or a loved one.

Types of Independent Living

Depending on your specific needs and desired living situation, there are different forms of housing within the umbrella of independent living. If you want to enjoy the on-site amenities and community provided by an independent living facility, and the ability to access aging services as needed, you could look into a continuing care retirement community. Alternatively, senior housing apartments cost less per month and offer the privacy of a personal apartment in a multi-family housing structure that is often designated for those over age 55. Read on to learn more about the differences between these types of independent living communities.

Continuing Care Retirement Communities

The continuing care retirement community (CCRC) is a transitional setting that generally offers three distinct levels of care within the same community: independent living, assisted living, and skilled nursing care. Most CCRCs are designed for those who are able to live independently when they move in but want the security of knowing changing needs can be met as they age, without having to relocate. Some facilities also offer memory care for those with dementia.

The cost of CCRCs is high. Most charge an initial, one-time entrance or buy-in fee that varies based on several factors, including accommodations and care needs. These fees can range from $100,000 for a non-purchase (rental) agreement, with buy-in fees up to $1,000,000 or more depending on the size and location of a unit, and the community. In addition to the entrance fee, most CCRCs require monthly service fees. Again, these are variable and may change as the level of care increases.

The Independent Living arm of a CCRC offers the same advantages of living in a private home, and may provide additional amenities, such as assistance with lawn care and other home maintenance chores.

There are a number of advantages to residing in CCRC independent living, such as:

Promotion of an active lifestyle

  • Supportive social environment
  • Proper medical care
  • Good nutrition
  • Overall wellness encouraged

Senior Apartments

Senior apartments offer many of the same amenities as retirement communities, on a smaller scale. One- or two-bedroom apartments with full kitchens and bathrooms allow seniors to remain independent. These 55 and over complexes usually offer disability-accessible accommodations for those who use a wheelchair or walker.

Senior living complexes may offer on-site activities such as exercise classes, recreational programs, and communal dining. Some senior apartments provide visiting physicians and medical services, while others offer beauticians or other personal services.

The rent for these units can be substantially less than that of a townhouse or condo in a retirement community, and often includes most of the maintenance. This is an ideal setting for someone who is no longer interested in or able to manage home maintenance or lawn care.

Independent Living Community Services and Amenities

Independent living communities are designed to provide seniors with a neighborhood of people their age and access to services that will help make their lives easier. These facilities typically do not offer assistance with activities of daily living like bathing and using the restroom, but do often offer services to assist people with everyday activities. Amenities and services differ depending on the community, but below are some of the services that are typically offered.

Assistance with Housework

Many communities offer a range of housekeeping services, from weekly trash and recycling services to full-service apartment cleaning and laundry. The grounds in and around the community are also kept clean and tidy by janitors.

Activities and Social Opportunities

Activity calendars are often provided at independent living communities, which provide residents with a variety of options to keep them engaging with their neighbors. Some communities have regular events that invite in the larger neighborhood such as during holidays.


Independent living communities aren’t required to provide three daily meals like in assisted living, but many communities do offer dining options and the ability to pay for meals in advance.


Some communities offer over 200 unique amenities, such as games rooms and on-site theatres and bars. Other independent living communities have relatively few amenities, and these places are typically more affordable to rent. 

What to Consider When Choosing an Independent Living Community

Daily Life

When deciding where to spend your retirement, you’ll want to consider what it will be like to live in a facility. First impressions can be very important and provide you with a good feel for what life is like there. When touring a community, take note of the location and outside appearance. Will it be convenient for frequent visits by family and friends? Is it near a shopping and entertainment complex? You also want to know where your nearest medical facilities are and if you will have transportation to reach them.

When you first enter the facility, take note of the reaction from staff members. Do they greet you warmly? When you’re observing interactions between the staff members and residents, are they being treated respectfully and addressed by their names? Do the people living there interact with each other and seem happy? Try to talk with a few of the staff members and as many of the residents as you can to ask them about their experience living there. Also find out if guests are welcome at any time, and what dining options are available for guests such as private dining rooms.

Another important area to think about is what living accommodations are like in a facility. You can find out how many apartments are vacant and being rented to figure out how popular a place is, and ask if there is a waiting list well in advance of needing to move. Most places have an estimate of how long it takes to move off the waiting list. If there is room available, look into the size and floor plan to make sure it’s an apartment you would like living in. If you have mobility concerns, check to see if the building is built to accommodate wheelchairs and walkers, and that stairs have handrails. If there is more than one floor, ask if there is an elevator.

Living Accommodations

You’ll want to ensure that the floors are slip-resistant and safe to walk on, and make sure the residence has good lighting, sprinklers, and clearly marked exits. A comfortable apartment will be clean and properly heated and cooled as well. Many communities offer single and double occupancy options, as well as private suites, so ask what the different room types are available. You will also want to know if the apartments are furnished or if residents need to bring their own furniture, and to what extent rooms can be decorated. 

Many independent living communities offer full bathrooms and kitchens, so be sure to ask what appliances are included and if the restroom and sink areas have safety features like handrails and emergency call systems. Make sure apartments have a sturdy locking front door and ask what security measures are in place to keep residents safe overnight, such as the presence of fire alarm and sprinkler systems. Be sure to ask where the emergency exits are and to find out the emergency evacuation plan. You can also ask what utilities are included and if the apartments are equipped for cable, TV, and WiFi services. 

Care Services

When thinking about the right place to retire, find out if the apartments you’re looking at have the appropriate level of medical care available for your needs. Most independent living communities are not designed to provide ongoing care, but may facilitate access to nearby medical facilities or host regular wellness clinics. There may be a case manager that can help seniors find the care they need if their medical needs change. If there are healthcare staff employed by the community, ask about their training and credentials. 

In addition to healthcare, ask if the facility provides ongoing chore services like routine housekeeping and personal laundry help. If they do, make sure you know what the monthly fees are in addition to the rent. Many communities also have an on-site laundry facility for residents. 


When visiting properties, a simple walk-through can be done around the property to ensure that the common areas are attractive, comfortable and clean. There may be an outside garden area and patio, and some facilities allow residents to use the garden so be sure to ask about community gardening privileges if there is a garden area. Also be sure to check out the amenity rooms, as many communities offer a variety of arts and crafts rooms and other group activity areas. By checking out the facility and its activity calendar, you can get a good idea of what a daily schedule might look like.

Independent living communities can have a range of health amenities, including beauty and barbershops and visiting wellness clinics. Ask if pharmacy and physical therapy services are available, and to see the exercise programs and gym areas. Depending on your or your loved one’s tastes, communities with a wealth of on-site amenities and programs may be more valuable than other aspects like low cost and large living spaces, so think about what the most important aspects of daily life are when deciding on your home for retirement.

If a variety of daily activities and events are important to you, look for a rotating activities calendar that features differing programs such as gardening and art classes. Many communities schedule group outings as well as bring in the neighboring community members during holidays and other special events. Religious seniors may want to look for a community that has on-site religious services such as bible groups or weekly transportation to church. Another consideration is pet policies, find out if residents can have pets in common areas and apartments, and if there are ever any furry visitors for residents to play with.


It’s important to think about the food that you’ll be eating during your stay in an independent living community. Does the facility provide daily meals, and if so, how many daily meals are included in the monthly fee? Be sure to also check on the quality of the menu and find out if a qualified dietician plays a role in creating the menu. Many communities include residents in meal planning and take special requests, so ask about how involved you can be in deciding what type of food to choose from every day. If you have any dietary restrictions such as a low-sodium or gluten-free diet, make sure to ask if your diet is considered in the dining choices.

You’ll also want to find out about the dining room environment. Check to make sure it provides a pleasurable dining experience with a floor plan that encourages residents to relax, socialize, and enjoy their food. Verify dining hours so you know when meals are served and if you’ll be able to order off a menu during non-meal hours, as well as what snacks are served and when. You can also consider what meals look like during times of illness- will there tray service be available? 

Moving In

Before choosing a community, make sure to ask about what is involved in the move-in and move-out process, including all associated fees. Verify that your loved ones rights are protected and their care needs are guaranteed to be met with contractual agreements that clearly disclose healthcare, accommodations, personal care, supportive services, all fees, as well as admission and discharge provisions. There should also be a written statement of resident rights and responsibilities. 

Ask if the residents will own or rent their units, and what the payment schedule is. If there are any additional fees, ask them to be clearly outlined as well as any events that might cause fees to increase. It’s also critical to find out the policies in place to help residents whose funds become depleted and can no longer make full payments. Ask if there is a case manager available to help residents coordinate with government, private or corporate programs that may be available to help cover costs. It’s also a good idea to find out what the costs for additional services such as skilled nursing care or physical therapy are, in the event that such services are required on a temporary basis.

Other Helpful Resources

Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)

HUD manages and implements a variety of housing programs, including housing choice waivers and low-income housing projects for seniors. Visit the HUD Resource Locator tool to find affordable senior housing near you. You can learn more about programs in your area by visiting the HUD senior services website.

Area Agencies on Aging

Area agencies on aging direct senior services resources in an area, including senior centers and meal programs. Use the Elder Care Locator to find aging services in your area.