Patricia Lewis is like many other professionals who reach retirement age.
She’s widowed. Her three children are grown and married. Suddenly, the dream
home in Stafford, Va., that she planned to spend the rest of her life in seems
too big and requires too much maintenance.
But its value has almost doubled. She cashes in, moves from the Washington,
D.C., exurb and heads south. She buys a new, smaller home in an active-adult
community for far less and basks in the warmer climate and less harried pace.
“I figured I could take that money and dump it into a home someplace else, a
quieter area with not a lot of traffic and where there are a lot of activities,”
says Lewis, 61, a computer programmer who retired after 26 years at the Defense
Department. She now lives in Sun City Hilton Head, a sprawling development of
homes on lagoons, nature trails and golf courses.
It’s a familiar tale in a graying nation of more than 63 million people ages
55 and older. But until recently, African-Americans such as Lewis played only a
tiny role in the fast-growing retirement migration fueled by aging baby boomers.
That may be changing. Blacks’ earnings are rising, and so are their
homeownership rates. Skyrocketing real estate values in metropolitan areas and a
desire to return to Southern roots are prompting a mini-wave of retirement moves
among blacks looking for a lower cost of living as well as fun and sun.
“The in-migration market has almost always exclusively been white,” says Dan
Owens, founder of Carolinas Active Retirement Association, a group of businesses
that target retirees to relocate to North Carolina and South Carolina. “As baby
boomers come along, there’s a new generation with wealth and mobility in all
That may be why:
• African-Americans are showing up in the glossy brochures and promotional
videos of Del Webb Corp.’s active-adult communities, such as Sun City Hilton
Head here in Bluffton, a town settled in 1825 as a summer retreat for rice and
cotton plantation owners.
• In affluent Sarasota, Fla., Realtor Peggy Hairston, an African-American who
moved from New York 26 years ago, reports an influx of wealthy black executives
from suburbs in the Northeast and Midwest. Las Vegas Realtor Phyllis Schwartz
says new luxury high-rise condos there are attracting rich blacks from Western
• Maryland developer Steve Stavrou built Cameron Grove, a housing development
for people 55 and older in Prince George’s County, a suburb of Washington in
which blacks make up almost two-thirds of the county’s population.
• Martin County, N.C., (pop. 25,000) where the percentage of non-whites is
about 47% and as high as 89% in some towns, is wooing black retirees, including
military veterans. Targeting retired African-Americans who grew up there and
moved away is just one part of the county’s economic development strategy to
replace 800 jobs lost from 1999 to 2003, says Matthew Shulman, coordinator of
the Martin County Entrepreneurial Assistance Program. Retirees can lift a
region’s economy. They pay taxes and want stores, doctors and restaurants.
“We do not want to be known as a red, brown, yellow, black or white retiree
destination but as a place where the welcome mat is open to all who can
contribute,” he says. But “when we market to the military, we understand that a
good percentage of them are going to be African-Americans.”
Shulman estimates that a UPS truck driver or a postal worker in the Northeast
retires with a pension of $30,000 to $40,000 a year. “They have a house that
they’ve owned for 20 or 25 years and paid $50,000 to $70,000,” he says. “They
sell the house and it brings $220,000. They come here and buy the same house
they had there and spend $75,000.”