Youngtown – The First Active Retirement Community

black and white aerial of community homes with road winding through

In the last 50 years the popularity of active adult retirement communities has boomed across the country. In 2010 the famous Del Webb’s Sun City Arizona will celebrate its 50th birthday. Del Webb has been praised as the founder of 55+ active adult living.

There are over 50 Del Webb age-restricted communities currently under construction across 21 states. Plus, there are a couple dozen Del Webb communities that were built in the last several decades that are now filled with happy 55+ aged homeowners. Surprisingly, Del Webb weren’t the ones who originated the concept of 55+ age-restricted living — they just perfected it.

Youngtown History

Unbeknownst to many people, age-restricted communities started six years before the 1960 grand opening of Sun City. In 1954 a real estate broker named Ben Schleifer purchased 320 acres of farmland west of Phoenix, AZ. Schleifer cleverly named his new community Youngtown and started promoting it as a new living concept for senior citizens.

Within a couple years, the town became increasingly populated with retirees seeking a low cost of living, warm climate, minimal taxes, and no crime. Even though very few people around the country knew of Youngtown, it was evident from the beginning that Schleifer was on to something.

An age-restricted lifestyle meant the residents could enjoy a socially active lifestyle surrounded by like minded individuals and that they could avoid heavy tax burdens from local school districts. Additionally, residents of Youngtown relished the social activity and freedom they had.

At that time, most elderly people were relegated to moving back in with their kids or going to a nursing home. The idea that one’s older years could be the best years of their life was picking up steam and it wasn’t long until Del Webb took notice of this.

Already an experienced developer of casinos, hotels, and military bases, Webb was accustomed to large scale building projects. Del Webb applied many of the concepts of Youngtown towards their new venture and began marketing the “Golden Years” towards older adults as an opportunity to live a carefree retirement lifestyle filled with golf, leisure, and social activity in a warm climate.

The response was overwhelming and on New Years Day 1960 when over 100,000 people showed up to the grand opening of Del Webb’s new Sun City community northwest of Phoenix. Meanwhile, down the road, Youngtown suddenly found itself in the shadow of Sun City.

What Happened To Youngtown?

Despite the popularity of Sun City, Youngtown continued to thrive as an age-restricted community where at least one occupant of a home had to be 55 and no children under the age of 18 were allowed to live in the community for more than 90 days a year.

Then, in 1996, a sixteen-year old moved in with his grandparents who lived in Youngtown. The boy sought refuge from a physically abusive stepfather. Due to the extenuating circumstances, the boy’s grandparents requested leniency on the age-restriction from town officials, but were turned down. After pleading their case to the state attorney general, the case made international headlines and challenged the concept of 55+ living.

After some investigation, it was surprisingly determined that Youngtown was not an age-restricted community and legally had never been one. Therefore, the community’s attempts to enforce the age-restriction policy were determined unlawful. Oddly, despite all of the marketing and promotion towards adults, Schleifer never actually placed an age-restriction on the deed status. Apparently, he must have assumed that such a community designed for older adults would never appeal to younger generations.

Today, Youngtown is now an all ages community. While still heavily favored by older adults, many families with children now call Youngtown home. The community still enjoys a tranquil, small town atmosphere where residents can enjoy five parks, a library, a clubhouse and lake.

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