04 October 2011

Not so happy in The Villages

Report from Leisureville: not very welcoming

By George Erickson
Special to the Star-Banner
Sunday, October 2, 2011

THE VILLAGES — When my wife and I sought relief from our northern winters, we checked out Phoenix and Tucson, but found them much too dry. Next came Florida, which primarily consists of swamps, jungles, strip malls and retirement communities, one of which is modestly called The Villages.

"You have to see it," said a friend. "It's inland, far away from all those hurricanes! You'll have lots of flowers and great landscaping plus an endless choice of restaurants. There's a ton of excellent stores, not to mention a gaggle of golf courses, tennis courts, cultural activities and a wealth of affinity groups with varied interests."

We sent for their cute cardboard "briefcase" and their captivating DVD that provided a tour of The Villages — and, surprise! — a cameo for George W. Bush. Hmmmm.

Oh, well, we thought. That's just marketing. Little, as they say, did we know.

We came. We bought. We furnished. We loved our house, our fruit trees and our big lot with no neighbors behind us.

However, we soon learned that the local radio station was "fair and balanced" — just ask them — and the newspaper, which published cartoons of President Barack Obama drawn with bile, relentlessly featured the acid-etched comments of Michelle Malkin, Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly and Oliver North, a convicted-but-pardoned felon who, along with Sean Hannity and Newt Gingrich, know just how our country should be run.

And then, because The Villages is an obligatory stop for neo-conservatives on cross-country trips, came the book signings at Barnes & Noble. We've had Mike Huckabee, Beck and Sarah Palin, and even George W. Bush, our self-described "warrior president," our lofty ex-decider-in-chief who told a Texas reporter during his first campaign, "If I'm elected president, I'm going to invade Iraq."

So, in an attempt to learn why people would stand in line to praise someone who abetted torture, invaded a sovereign nation and violated the Geneva Convention, I wandered down to the signing to mingle with the crowd, many of whom had erected holiday yard signs proclaiming that "Jesus is the Reason for the Season" — not "my" reason or "a" reason, which would be understandable, but "the" reason. Take that, you nonfanatics. But despite all the flags and the chattering, smiling faces, I found only hostility. Wasn't Jesus the Prince of Peace? You know, the "Thou shalt not kill" guy?

The Villages Daily Sun, which is the print version of Faux News, had wasted plenty of space on Bush's face-saving, semi-fiction book. So, for balance, I requested an article explaining how the same people who harassed President Bill Clinton for the Monica Lewinsky affair would be eager to enrich a man whose fraudulent, trillion-dollar war has killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and displaced two million more at the cost of 5,000 dead American troops, 31,000 wounded and an epidemic of post-traumatic stress cases that have raised military suicides to record heights.

That was months ago, and I'm still waiting.

More recently, we learned of the impending visit of Fox News and also Christine O'Donnell, the nonwitch, probably to be followed by Ann Coulter, the genuine article, which is just too much.

We have thrown in the towel. I'll miss the good folks who enliven the World Affairs Club and the Civil Discourse Club, which my free-thinking friend Mike Enright and I founded, but it will be a pleasure to return to Minnesota, a land of truly balanced reporting where scholarships come before warships and where our only real embarrassment is a first-rate religious fanatic named Michelle Bachmann.

George Erickson is a retired dentist and former board member of the American Humanist Association who formerly resided in The Villages.

10 July 2011

Interesting housing demographic update

Hispanic families favor larger homes with more family members, which is contrary to current "active adult" housing trend, plus other interesting information and updates.

01 June 2011

Villages bans Democrats from "private meeting" with Republican Governor in Town Square

... Members of The Villages Democratic Club were barred from the budget signing by Scott staffers who said the outdoor event in The Villages town square was “private.” Other staffers and Republican operatives scoured the crowd and had Sumter County sheriff’s deputies remove those with anti-Scott signs or liberal-looking pins and buttons. They escorted more than a dozen people off the property....

So much for pretending to be an authentic town....

10 April 2011

Sunbelt communities running out of cemetery space -- no real desire to build more

Tampa running out of cemetery space
By KEVIN WIATROWSKI | The Tampa Tribune

For a century now, Italians have been burying their loved ones in a small cemetery on the city's east side.

Headstones in the L'Unione Italia Cemetery bear many names that are still familiar: Ferlita, Greco, Montelione, Nuccio.

Behind a tall black fence, the site is chock-a-block with granite stones and family crypts. An enormous mausoleum holds more than 500 recent burials, stacked six high.

The cemetery has anchored Tampa's Italian community for generations, but it's unclear how much longer that can happen. The Italian cemetery, like many across Tampa, has run out of space. A handful of gravesites and mausoleum slots remain at L'Unione Italia, but they'll soon be gone, said Sam Manna, who oversees the cemetery for the Italian Club.

Tampa isn't alone in running out of cemetery space. Across the country, cities as big as New York and as small as Orem, Utah, are looking for places to bury their dead.

The city-owned graveyards in Tampa – Oaklawn, Woodlawn, Jackson Heights and Marti/Colon – have about 1,100 unused grave sites, all of them spoken for. The city hasn't sold a new gravesite since the 1980s, said Marsha Carter, who manages the cemeteries for the city's parks department.

Another prominent cemetery, East Tampa's privately owned Memorial Park – ran out of new plots in 2006. Since then, it has stopped paying for itself, said owner John Robinson.

As Tampa's cemeteries fill up, families must travel beyond the city limits to bury their loved ones. Even former New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who had deep ties to Tampa, couldn't find a final resting space in the city. He's buried in a mausoleum in Pasco County, miles from the baseball stadium that bears his name.

In the Tampa Bay region, decades of suburban growth have left many areas with no cemeteries at all. That's partly because cemeteries aren't part of community planning in Florida. They're treated either as for-profit businesses – often extensions of funeral homes – or as offshoots of nonprofit groups, such as churches.

As a result, from Carrollwood to Keystone, northwest Hillsborough County has no burial spaces. They're also nonexistent in growing bedroom communities such as Wesley Chapel and Brandon.

Even many retiree-oriented communities are without cemeteries, though that's not surprising to Ruth Steiner, a professor of planning at the University of Florida.

"How do you tell someone they're moving to an active-adult community when you include something like a cemetery in the development?" she said.

Cemeteries used to be as integral to a community's life as its churches and schools. But times are changing, and the Tampa Bay region's cemeteries seem at risk of becoming things of the past.

Several factors are at work, experts say:

•The Tampa Bay region is heavy with retirees and transplanted workers for whom "home" is another town in another state. Every year, about 9,000 people die in Hillsborough County, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates. But only a fraction of those people are buried here.

•The cost of a modern burial can run into the five figures, making cremation a cheaper and more appealing option. More than 50 percent of the people who die in Florida each year are cremated, said Jim Ford, president of the Neptune Society, a company that specializes in cremations.

•In bedroom communities, where the population favors young, out-of-state transplants, subdivision builders looking to wring profit from every acre are loathe to set aside land for anything but houses, said Avera Wynne, planning director for the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council.

Also, many people don't want to live near a cemetery.

"It's really about Not In My Back Yard," said Jennifer Doerfel, executive vice president of the Tampa Bay Building Association. "Nobody wants to look at a cemetery."

Not to worry, say cemetery owners and funeral directors. The Tampa Bay region has burial spaces to spare, even if they're in far-flung places such as southwest Pasco and eastern Hillsborough counties.

Given the trends reshaping the way we deal with death, the region's existing cemeteries have space for years to come, said Keenan Knopke, president of the Florida Cemetery, Crematory and Funeral Home Association, based in Pinellas County.

With modern families spread across the country, it makes sense that people opt out of traditional burials, said Lori Collins, an archeologist who studies cemeteries at the University of South Florida.

Collins points to her own family, which has roots in Upstate New York but is dispersed across 15 states. Her father is buried in the Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell, her mother in Land O' Lakes.

"This idea of having a centralized place where people come may not be such an aspect of our society anymore," Collins said.

That would be a shame, said Laurie Burgess, a cemetery expert with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

Cemeteries serve as their community's time capsules, literally casting history in stone. In Tampa, cemeteries hold the remains of the city's founders, prominent members of its Italian, black, Cuban and Jewish communities, slaves and victims of yellow fever and Spanish flu epidemics.

As the Tampa Bay area loses touch with it cemeteries, it also risks losing touch with its history, Burgess said.

"Cemeteries are very good at carrying messages into the future from the past," she said.

Protecting that history isn't always simple, though.

Memorial Park Cemetery owner Robinson said the East Tampa burial ground, where some of Tampa's most prominent black residents are buried, has become a financial burden after three generations in his family.

Robinson couldn't convince the city to take over the site. He also hasn't stirred much interest among East Tampa residents to step in. So, when Robinson, 58, dies, the cemetery will become abandoned property.

A few blocks to the south on 26th Street, Manna hopes to avoid a similar fate for the L'Unione Italia Cemetery. Community members have spent a decade reviving the once-neglected cemetery.

The Italian Club wants to build a costly new mausoleum to extend the cemetery's life for future generations, himself included, Manna said. The group will likely borrow the money to do the work, because few people buy gravesites in advance any more, he said

The alternative is walking away from the cemetery, and that's not an option, Manna said.

"Having a place to come to visit your deceased loved ones helps keep a sense of family," Manna said. "I think that's begun to fracture."

30 January 2011

Not the sort of people you want to depend on for helping contribute to school taxes

Washington Post, 01/26/2011
Leisure World residents balk at $1 fee
By Katherine Shaver

Sixty percent of residents surveyed at Leisure World in Silver Spring want to change the “active adult” community’s name rather than pay a licensing fee to continue using it and the landmark steel globe, a community leader said Wednesday.

The survey, which was circulated in December, came after Heidi Cortese, the daughter of Leisure World’s initial developer, proposed charging a $6,000 monthly fee because her California-based company, RRLH, holds the trademark to the name and globe design. Cortese lowered the fee to $1 annually for 30 years, saying she needed to charge something or risk losing her trademark protection.

The Georgia Avenue community has used the Leisure World name and enormous steel globe at its entrance for 45 years.

Leisure World’s 35-member board of directors will vote on the issue in March or April after the staff determines how much it would cost to change the name on signs, trucks, staff uniforms and the entrance, said board chairwoman Marian Altman. The community has already spent $35,000 in legal fees.

Of the 2,895 residents who responded to the survey, 60 percent favored changing the name and 32 percent wanted to keep it, Altman said. Another 8 percent gave only comments. The 610-acre community has 8,500 residents age 55 and older.

If the community changes its name, Altman said, it also would change the globe logo.

23 January 2011

On the House: A boomer boom goes bust

On the House: A boomer boom goes bust
By Al Heavens
Inquirer Real Estate Columnist

A lot of home builders once assumed there would be a bottomless market of baby boomers for their over-55 communities.
You could see the dollar signs in their eyes every time they happened on one of the 79 million Americans born between 1945 and 1964.

Demographers admonished them not to lump all boomers together, noting that a large segment hadn't gone to Ivy League schools or become corporate lawyers.

Some, it turns out, actually worked for a living, or didn't, or lived from paycheck to paycheck, or saw their high-paying jobs outsourced to cheap labor markets and now were working at fast-food outlets.

When buyers didn't materialize fast enough, developments were built that boomers could retire into while they were still working, communing with their demographic in four-unit clusters or at community recreation centers. Then came 2006: The housing bubble burst, the poor got poorer, and the rich became less so.

Now, five years later, boomers are hanging on to their houses, either because they hope their lost equity will be recovered quickly or because buyers are scarce. That's what the 50+ Housing Council of the National Association of Home Builders and AARP found in separate surveys of baby boomers in late 2010.

Another finding: The recession has made buyers more practical about choosing new homes. Design considerations have taken a backseat to financial concerns, which any student of the obvious figured out three years ago.

Falling into the "no-kidding" category: Past surveys showed that selling a house facilitated the purchase of a new one. The most recent data indicate that option diminished during the economic downturn.

In 2005 and '07, the Home Builders/MetLife Mature Market Survey reported, no active-adult buyers acknowledged having to tap cash or savings to buy a house, but in 2009, 45 percent of the typical buyer's down payment came from cash or savings.

The data were drawn from the 2009 American Housing Survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In a May Webinar, Margaret Wylde of the ProMatura Group of Oxford, Miss., who produced a number of the studies I've reported on over the years, said the number of boomers "very unlikely" to buy in active-adult developments had risen from 3 percent in 2004 to 31 percent.

Tough crowd.

Those able to buy are getting much more for less, the Home Builders/MetLife study said, with fewer than half reporting that their new houses cost more than their old ones.

AARP's study reported that 88 percent of those 65 and older and 83.5 percent of baby boomers want to stay in their homes as long as they can.

That means most boomers will stay where they are in the suburbs, AARP said: "Retirement communities are now being developed closer to metropolitan areas because many are still working and don't see retirement as withdrawing from society."

There were some interesting insights on urban areas, as well, from AARP:

Many central cities are experiencing a resurgence of urban living fueled not only by young adults but by empty-nesters.

"Yuppie senior" populations emerged in places like Las Vegas, Denver, Dallas, and Atlanta.

Slow-growing metropolitan areas in the Northeast and Midwest will age, too, but more likely will consist disproportionately of "mature seniors" who are less well off financially or medically. Those populations may require greater social support, along with affordable private and institutional housing, and accessible health-care providers.

On the House:

Inquirer real estate writer Alan J. Heavens is the author of "Remodeling on the Money" (Kaplan Publishing). His home improvement column appears Fridays in Home & Design.

"On the House" appears Sundays. Contact Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472, aheavens@phillynews.com or Twitter: @alheavens.

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08 January 2011

Another good reader letter

Mr. Blechman,

Finally, someone has the stones to publish some truths about this place. Thank you. Everyone in my area, as well as, anyone who is currently employed by The Villages needs a copy of "Leisureville". It's better than therapy. I am a certified builder and have worked for these people for over 12 years. I have lived here locally for over 20 years and watched as the prestine beauty of the area that was fields of grandfather oaks and fox squirrels turn to cookie cutter houses and repeat shopping. Yes, I profited heavily in the housing boom, but I can tell you how homes were pushed to be built in 30 days start to finish and how county inspectors seemed to be "robo signing" inspection cards. This place has no bones or history like many other great places to live. It is surrounded by rampant poverty and high unemployment. It seems as if the Villagers are all bitter when you come into contact with them. Maybe they're pissed because they can't unload their home in Florida's falling house market, or they did everything and are bored. The locals hate the place and go to bed at night loathing that their local gov't is controlled completely by the developer. Roads crumble outside the borders while flower beds are replanted after every cold snap within. County tax revenues seem to be misappropriated. Recently, the local high school was consolidated with the middle school for lack of county funds - while the developer plans a new turnpike exchange and towncenter. When the developer needs an agenda pushed or funds raised, he leans on the subcontractors and business owners for "voluntary" donations. It gets old.....quick!

I agree with you. I think it's wasteful ideology to save your entire life only to live segregated by age and confine oneself to "retirement communities". The word "retirement" itself is a goal less thought of by my generation (X) and surely by the Y and Z gen. "Live now", we say. I recommend "4 Hour Work Week", by Tim Ferriss. This could very well sum up the mindset of the next generations and lead to the termination of phrases like "retirement communities".

If you plan a part two to "Leisureville", I would be more than helpful (free of charge) to fill in any blanks with my extensive experiences as an insider and as a local of 20 years.

Thanks again for a great read!


Interesting reader letter

Mr Blechman, After a recent trip down to Lady Lake Florida to pack up and move my 80 year old mother-in-law back to New England my wife and I made several unsettling observations of the area that we just couldn't quite figure out. After spending the day packing up her belongings and emptying out her mobile home we went to the Villages to spend the night in one of their hotels. The place was nice enough, but when we ventured out to eat and walk around we just couldn't keep from feeling we were in a giant theme park. We ended up eating one night at RJ Gator's and saw all these "seniors" streaming in these ridiculous outfits- both sexes easily dressed like they were 25 years younger then they were.We figured out that this must have been a stop on the "circuit" and asked our waitress about it. She laughed and said we should have seen the halloween party they had there- the outfits were "shocking", never mind the dancing. When we went back to the room I just had to find out what the Villages we supposed to be all about- We had been there before as my sister and brother-in-law moved there and it was Utopia to them. After just a little bit of digging on the internet I came across your book "Leisureville" and after reading a few pages online I had to get a copy. Being right across the street from a big Barnes and Noble at the Villages you probably won't be surprised to hear that your book was "unavailable". When we got home I bought your book and couldn't put it down. Everything was spot on- from that rag of a newspaper (that has to be seen to be believed) the piped in music, the phony downtowns, you name it. The most disturbing thing is most of the residents don't care- it's the greatest place on earth to them.You basically articulated our observations to a "T", the scary thing is learning how the place is run. We also have some friends that live in Bushnell and that place is a whole different world only 25 or so miles away. My mother-in-law is no fool and after being uprooted by my sister-in-law and told to move from West Palm Beach to Lady Lake she has finally had it. She has been in the area only 2 years and she has decided dealing in reality with the winters in New England (she is originally from Massachusetts) is better than living in a fantasy land in the Villages. Thanks for a great book, J and K, in NH