TRAIL of Johnson County releases senior housing guide to help older adults age in place in Iowa City

TRAIL is a non-profit organization that provides resources for older adults to live out their lives how they see fit. Their guide aims to help seniors find options for accommodating housing.


David Greedy

Iowa City, Iowa – Images for TRAIL organiztion. For social media, corporate and advertising use.

Clinton Garlock, News Reporter

This fall, TRAIL — an organization that supports seniors seeking active and independent living — released its first senior housing guide in partnership with AARP.  The guide contains listings for housing options all over Johnson County that cater to older adults based on their needs.

“90 percent of the listings are in Iowa City and Coralville,” said Susan Shullaw, a TRAIL board member.

The housing guide is currently available for free on the group’s website, but Shullaw said the group wasn’t able to distribute it to the library or senior centers like they had originally wanted because of COVID-19.

However, she noted that the actual listings in the guide mostly focus on the direct services they provide to senior citizens, not the safety precautions the specific facilities take are not covered in the guide.

“Every one of these facilities has different rules about how people stay safe,” Shullaw said. “COVID didn’t really factor into it; it’s really a guide for whether we’re in a pandemic or not.”

The listings in the guide are organized into five levels of independence:

  • Independent Living
  • Independent Living with Assisted Living
  • Assisted Living with Memory Care
  • Independent Living with Assisted Living and Memory Care
  • Continuing Care

The Independent Living section makes up the bulk of the listings.

“I think it just depends on what you need,” said Joy Smith, a longtime member of TRAIL who lives with her husband David in their home.

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The couple joined TRAIL when they were in their 60s, and they have utilized several of its volunteer services through their membership, including house-sitting and technical support.

Smith said their interest in TRAIL “came out of caring for my parents as they left their independent lives and went into assisted living and nursing home care, and all the challenges that came with that.”

Although the couple have not needed assisted living services, they left their previous home to ensure they could age comfortably in their own space.

“David and I had lived in a great big Victorian house for 26 years that we dearly loved, but David said, ‘By the time I’m 70 I want to be out of this house,’” Smith said.

The couple moved closer into Iowa City and built a house that included an auxiliary apartment, so that they would have space for a live-in caretaker if they ever needed one.

“We’re not naive,” Smith said. “We’ve watched what happens to our family and our friends and we know that there may be circumstances where that will change our mind.”

She said she enjoys living in a college town, and that she rarely has any problems with her younger neighbors.

“It gives us the rich, intellectual stimulation and access to the arts and all of those things that are really important and keep us thinking and vital,” Smith said of living in a college town. “We love that.”

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TRAIL volunteer Allison Andrews said she is currently helping her grandfather, who lives in Illinois, find a more accommodating place to live. She said she thinks the housing guide would be very helpful.

“I wish every state had something like this,” Andrews said. “My favorite part about TRAIL is that we’re allowing members to still live independently and not feel so ashamed for being able to do the things they want or need to be able to do.”

Shullaw added that the biggest challenge for older adults finding housing in Iowa City is affordability. The housing guide does include some low-income options, and the board member noted that a large proportion of the senior population is living on a limited income.

On the affordability issue, she said, “I know that our city leaders and county leaders are looking at it.”