Millie Boyce had never lived in Idaho before.
The 86-year-old woman was born in Connecticut and lived there for 55 years before retiring to Sequim, Wash., with her husband John for several more decades. Boyce’s daughters have also never lived in Idaho; Lila Wheatley is across the border in Etna, Wyo., and Ruth Drossel lives in Southern California.
After John died in 2014, Millie knew she would soon move somewhere else. While she enjoyed the retirement community around her in Washington, the cost of living near Olympia and Seattle was more than she could afford on Social Security. She only saw her daughters once or twice a year and was not interested in moving to California, so Lila began looking around for places closer to Etna, which is between Afton and Alpine.
“Somebody had told me that Idaho Falls had really nice retirement communities. I looked at the three big ones in the city,” Wheatley said.
Those three major facilities are Fairwinds, Morningstar and Lincoln Court. Wheatley liked what she saw at Lincoln Court, so she took a gamble. Last year she moved her mother into the assisted living home in a state neither of them had lived in before and a city Boyce knew nothing about.
“I had absolutely no idea where I was heading,” Boyce said.
Millie Boyce is not the only senior seeing Idaho Falls for the first time after retiring. Idaho has the sixth largest population of retirees moving into the state, far behind Florida and Arizona but still seeing thousands of new seniors arriving every year. And Idaho Falls, specifically, has emerged as one of the biggest draws for the growing population around the age of retirement.
Matthew Johnson, executive director of Lincoln Court, said the number of out-of-state residents at his facility has increased over his seven years there and his 18 years in the assisted living industry. There are currently 16 residents at Lincoln Court from outside of Idaho, 13 of whom moved in this year.
Sheer numbers play a part in the trend of seniors moving into the state. The U.S. Census Bureau reported that Idaho was the fastest-growing state in the country last year, and the growing number of families in the state leads to more people with a family connection to the state.
The aging population may also be a factor in the trend. The baby boomer generation of retirees is on track to outnumber children under 18 for the first time in American history and the Idaho Department of Labor projects that the number of residents over 65 in the state will increase 50 percent by 2026. Thirteen percent of Idaho Falls is over the age of 65, which is actually less than Idaho’s overall population of 15 percent. According to Matthew Johnson, where their family lives is the biggest factor many seniors look at when finding a place to retire.
“I feel like seniors choose to move from California or the East Coast to Idaho Falls because we’re a family-oriented area,” Johnson said.
A family doesn’t have to have lived in Idaho for long for their parents to join them. When Judy and William Krasho moved to Idaho Falls in 2008, Judy’s father Jack had been living unhappily at a retirement home outside Las Vegas. He had trouble socializing with the other residents in that community and the cost in Las Vegas was twice what it would be for him in Idaho. So the Krasho’s moved Jack out with them and, with the help of some benefits from Veterans Affairs, settled him into Lincoln Court.
“Number one was that we were leaving and number two was that the cost was exorbitant. We wanted to move him because we couldn’t afford to pay that anymore,” Judy Krasho said.
That cost difference is not unique for those two cities. A study released by the personal finance company SmartAsset found Idaho Falls had the fifth-lowest cost for retiring seniors in the country in 2017. Calculating the savings needed to live comfortably for 30 years of retirement with some Social Security benefits, the study found that Idaho Falls required around $400,000 in savings. That number is less than half of what the company found for many major cities in California. SmartAsset cited the low cost for housing in the city and the Idaho tax code as reasons for the draw, along with some of the outdoor options in eastern Idaho.
Finding a house in Idaho Falls might be cheap for retirees, but the assisted living homes are also more affordable than in many other parts of Idaho. Johnson said Lincoln Court runs a competitive analysis every year where it compares its monthly room prices with other facilities in and around Idaho Falls. Their most recent analysis found that most retirement communities in Idaho Falls had monthly costs around $3,200 per person, while rooms at the main assisted living home in Pocatello started at closer to $4,000.
“You’re 40 miles down the interstate and some would say Idaho Falls is a nicer place to live. Why would you spend a thousand dollars more to live there?” Johnson asked.
The assisted living facilities also use the medical facilities of Idaho Falls to attract residents. People from outside the city and across the state border come to hospitals such as Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center to receive treatment and need a place to stay for those weeks instead of constantly traveling into the city. The Fairwinds — Sand Creek assisted living home works with the hospital to provide heavily discounted rooms for the visiting patients and uses the time to pitch them on a permanent move into the building.
“A lot of these ‘hospital cares’ will turn into long-term or even permanent housing,” Fairwinds sales adviser Don Williams said.
Many of the moves to Idaho Falls worked out well for the new seniors arriving in the city. In the four years that Jack Krasho lived in Lincoln Court before he died in 2012, he met many more people at the assisted living home and was even named the King of the Court. Millie Boyce said she quickly got used to the new city as Lincoln Court residents would visit local restaurants and the community holds a variety of events for its residents to stay active and bond with each other.
Lila Wheatley now sees her mother at least once a month and says that she has been impressed by the care and the cost in Idaho Falls. She has recommended the facility to her friends and some of them have visited Millie at Lincoln Court to look into the resources. Another person considering Lincoln Court is Ruth, Millie’s other daughter.
“She said last time we talked, ‘I might move up here when I retire,” Boyce said.