OP-ED: AARP The Magazine Evaluates 'Affordable' Retirement Destinations

By David M. Kinchen

OP-ED: AARP The Magazine Evaluates 'Affordable' Retirement Destinations

I've seen so many lists of great places to move to when you retire that I've long since discarded my respect for the vast majority of them, be they lists or books of communities. After all, most people will "retire in place," not move too far, if at all, from their residence when they retire.

They might not even retire in the traditional sense, in view of the miserable state of the economy. Working part time or starting a new business or career might be in the cards for many "retirees";  they'll probably find many opportunities where they area.

 So it was with trepidation that I examined a list of "Affordable" retirement communities that will be published in the Sept.-Oct. 2011 issue AARP The Magazine.

OP-ED: AARP The Magazine Evaluates 'Affordable' Retirement Destinations

I've been an AARP member for 22 years now, but I won't have to wait until the magazine arrives in my mailbox in our  retirement community of Port Lavaca, TX. : It's available online now at: http://www.aarp.org/home-garden/livable-communities/info-07-2011/affordable-cities.html)

Most lists serve up absolutely unaffordble retirement locales, like Honolulu or Carmel or San Diego.   AARP  The magazine has previously produced issues on the best college towns, the healthiest cities and other lists to help people figure out where to retire. Believe it or not, this is the first time AARP has focused on affordability. If it's a college town, toss affordability out the window. Pick a town that's convenient to colleges and universities, but not necessarily nestled among them.

"Given the economy, we were interested in finding places that were less expensive to live," says Gabrielle Redford, editorial projects manager for AARP The Magazine. The issue will be released on July 24. and should be arriving by the end of the month.

The destinations that AARP selected are not just dirt cheap. The selections were based on a number of criteria, such as property and sales tax rates, recreation, and health care, among others.

Although cities in the coldest parts of the country tend to be among the least expensive to live in, the study made sure to include a variety of climates. "We threw some livability criteria into the mix," Redford  told a reporter for USA Today. And they also decided to exclude cities that have high rates of unemployment and home foreclosures.

The top five destinations:

Portland, Maine
Median housing price: $202,800.
What a steal: A dozen raw oysters at J's Oyster, overlooking the bay; $11.50.
Best night on the town: Shakespeare in Deering Oaks Park: free.

Tulsa, Okla.
Median housing price: $125,600.
Best way to spend $10: Admission to the Philbrook Museum of Art, an Italian Renaissance villa built in the 1920s and converted to a museum, is just $7.50.

Gainesville, Ga.
Median housing price: $141,800.
Best way to spend $10: Grab a drink and a small plate at Recess Southern Gastro Pub on the square, then check out events downtown, including free concerts.

Wenatchee, Wash.
Median housing price: $192,000.
What a steal: All those dams provide enough power to give the region some of the nation's cheapest utility bills. Residents pay about 3 cents per kilowatt hour.

Winchester, Va.
Median housing price: $151,500.
Best night on the town:Shenandoah University has an exceptional music conservatory, with 100-plus professionals on staff. Evening performance: $27.

Runners up:
Ithaca, N.Y.
Midland, Texas

* * * I was glad to see a Texas town included in the list, but, frankly, Midland wouldn't be my choice; If I wanted to live inland -- which I don't -- I would  prefer a town in the Texas Hill County outside of San Antonio, or on the coast, where I live. Midland is a sizable city, with 130,000 or so residents; Port Lavaca has 12,248, in a county, Calhoun, of   21,381 residents, according to the 2010 census. Calhoun County -- which includes smaller towns like Seadrift, Port O'Connor and the more or less industrial town of Point Comfort across the causeway from Port Lavaca -- grew modestly from 2000 to 2010, gaining 3.6 percent. This compares with a growth rate of 20.6 percent for Texas from 2000 to 2010.
According to a news story in the Port Lavaca Wave, our countywide twice a week newspaper,  Port O'Connor is the grayest part of the county with 24.4 per cent aged 65 and older. Port Lavaca is the most youthful  with 12.9 per cent over 65 and the county averages 15.1 percent.


Males made up 50.7 per cent of the county population and 49.9 per cent of Port Lavaca, making a theoretical balance of the two sexes.

Some of the numbers regarding race show the county 81.5 percent white, 46.4 percent Hispanic or Latino (predominately of Mexican descent), 4.4 percent Asian (mostly Chinese descent) and 2.6 percent black. Port Lavaca is 56.6 per cent Hispanic.

Port Lavaca serves an industrial and agricultural area, and it's not a retirement community per se. We do get "winter Texans" from the colder states and there are several RV parks for them. We have more than adequate shopping, with much more available in Victoria, a city of over 50,000, about 30 miles inland. We have a twin-screen theater, where I just saw "Captain America," and we have several nice restaurants, including seafood places (the town is a shrimping port), authentic Mexican restaurants, and a very good barbecue restaurant. The public library is outstanding, with a main branch in Port Lavaca and branches throughout the county. We have a number of festivals throughout the year, with my photos illustrating some of them. We have a lively live theatre group, the Port Lavaca Main Street Theatre, performing in the refurbished old movie theatre in Old Towne P.L. It's a good place to live; we've been here three years and are satisfied.

 Here are some numbers, mostly from 2009, that show how affordable Port Lavaca is:

Estimated median household income in 2009: $43,096 (it was $33,626 in 2000)

Port Lavaca:




Estimated per capita income in 2009: $19,552

Port Lavaca city income, earnings, and wages data

Estimated median house or condo value in 2009: $72,793 (it was $50,900 in 2000)
Port Lavaca:




Mean prices in 2009: All housing units: $78,350; Detached houses: $87,332; Townhouses or other attached units: $59,082; In 2-unit structures: $83,390; In 3-to-4-unit structures: $63,734; Mobile homes: $22,425; Occupied boats, RVs, vans, etc.: $6,748

Median gross rent in 2009: $615.


Yes, rent is an important number, because quite a few retirees are renters. It gives them flexibility to "feel free to move about the country" in the words of a Texas icon, Southwest Airlines.

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