Some kids overstaying welcome at Sun City Center

Article Courtesy of The Tampa Tribune

By Donna Koehn

Published December 21, 2011 

Sun City Center has its share of wheels, often attached to walkers, wheelchairs and, of course, golf carts, the iconic mode of transportation in one of the nation's first retirement communities.

What you shouldn't see going 'round and 'round here? The wheels of the bus.

Residents were startled this semester when Hillsborough County school buses began picking up and dropping off elementary school students in their 55-and-older neighborhoods.

The school district confirmed a bus is making stops there, a place where children can visit briefly but not live.

"It was sure a surprise to see," says Dave Floyd, a director of the Sun City Center Community Association and the man in charge of keeping track of the community's compliance with its age-restricted ways. "We started getting reports from the homeowners associations that their members were calling to report children getting off the bus."

Legal action will be taken if residents fail to make other plans for the children, according to Ed Barnes, the association president. So far, of about 10 households found to be harboring young ones, eight have made other arrangements, either moving or sending the children away. Another already is in foreclosure.

"We don't want to throw people out of their homes," Floyd says. "We know times are tough."

Most are three-generation households in which grown children who have lost their jobs moved in with their parents for financial help, bringing the grandchildren along. The grandparents are attempting to get the extended family back on its feet, Floyd says.

The association is working with the families if they need a little extra time to make arrangements to move out, he says. He declined to provide the names of those affected by the crackdown.

In Sun City Center, children can visit Grandma, but their stay is limited to 30 days per year.

It's legal. The federal Fair Housing Amendment Act of 1988 granted equal rights in housing - with two exceptions, both involving older adults. Sun City Center abides by the rule that 80 percent of households must have at least one person in a couple who is 55 or older. Sometimes, with permission, couples in their early 50s can move there.

Hillsborough County's code enforcement also monitors the ratio, Floyd says.

When people move in, they sign a contract stating they will never allow children under 18 to live with them full time.

Ann Marie Leblanc has 22 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

"Like most people, I love to see them," she says. "They come down and visit, and then when they're gone: Whew!"

Joe Elam says the community was built for those who are more mature and show a tolerance for those who move a little slower.

"We love the kids, but if we wanted to live with 'em, we'd move with 'em to Brandon," he says.

Wiley Mangum, professor emeritus in the School of Aging Studies at the University of South Florida, began studying newly emerging retirement communities in the 1960s. Sun City Center is one of the oldest, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

A lengthy, fun-filled retirement was an alien concept before then. People often worked until they died. If they became too old or ill to work, they moved in with their children, likely in the same town in which they were born.

Better medical care brought longer lives, and Social Security, pension plans and an increase in mobility after World War II led to the idea that one's final years could mean fun in the sun, far from home, with others the same age.

"Moving to a retirement community just to avoid children is not a major motive among most older people," Mangum says. "Once there, however, most people seem to be glad that children under 18 are usually around only on such occasions as spring break or Christmas."

Mangum, who lives in the nearby retirement community of Kings Point, says he's heard neighbors grousing around the pool about young children swimming there.

"Generally speaking, people move to retirement communities because they're attracted to the 'adult leisure lifestyle' that such communities purport to offer, and that lifestyle does not include small children on a regular basis," he says.

Elam says one reason he likes Sun City Center is the low crime rate. He worries that teenagers would bring more home burglaries and other problems to the neighborhood.

He recalls when he and his wife were looking at homes in the community 12 years ago.

"We were living in a big house on three acres, with a view of a lake and mountains," he says. "My wife kept looking out the back windows of the homes here and talking about how beautiful it was.

"I finally told her, 'You're seeing things! This doesn't compare!'"

It wasn't what she was seeing; it was what she wasn't.

"She said she couldn't see a single swing set. She'd raised our three children and she didn't want to raise another three."