For Marlene Dahlgren, 78, it was time to give up life in Fort Myers, Fla., give up the lovely intimacy of Twins spring training games, and return to Minnesota -- "back where people are nice and non-confrontational, and the seasons change."

For Floyd Skinner, 94, it was time to recognize that the era of driving won't last forever. It was time to give up the Apple Valley townhouse and start a new life within walking distance of the supermarkets and restaurants he enjoys, rather than have to start asking people for rides.

The two of them and many others have recently begun new lives at the edge of downtown Apple Valley, in a 134-unit senior facility whose ribbon-cutting took place late last week.

Most seem to have travelled the arc from young-adult apartments to single-family homes to townhouses and finally into rented units again.

Home ownership may be the bedrock on which the suburbs were built, but that is changing as they age. In the southern suburbs, more and more residents are renting instead of owning, according to 2010 Census numbers. The numbers illustrate what some city officials call an inevitable trend in the wake of housing and jobs crises and an aging population growing weary of maintaining property.

The rental rates for nearly all of the major Dakota County and Scott County cities increased during the last decade. In more than a handful of cities, rentals now make up 25 percent or more of the housing market.

"It certainly doesn't seem to be a Scott County thing, but something more universal," said Shakopee Community Development Director Michael Leek.

Shakopee saw an increase from 22 to percent a decade ago to 24 percent of its households being rented. In several instances, townhouses originally intended to be owner occupied instead became rentals, which probably spurred Shakopee's increase, Leek said.

West St. Paul, which had the highest concentration of rentals when the census was counted in 2000, still leads the pack with 43 percent rental, a slim percentage increase, but a trend the city is starting to be concerned about, especially as more single-family houses turn into rentals.

"The bottom line is that we don't see rental properties maintained as well. ... It starts to have this little bit of a ripple effect in the neighborhood," said Mayor John Zanmiller.

West St. Paul officials are considering a policy that would limit the number of rentals per block.

In Inver Grove Heights, the bump of five percentage points doesn't alarm Community Development Director Tom Link.

"It's not a significant increase," Link said.

Yet the city's housing committee, formed this year, may decide later to make rental regulations a priority, Link said. Inver Grove Heights doesn't have a rental registration program, but it has been discussed by the city council in the past few years, Link said.

Several cities already have rental registration programs, which require rental property owners to register their buildings, as a way to keep track of rental growth. So census numbers may not come as a surprise.

Still, the new information can alert cities to rental situations that may fly under their radar, said Jane Vanderpoel, management analyst in Dakota County's office of planning and analysis.

"What they don't want to know is that there are a bunch of single-family homes out there that are renting," Vanderpoel said.

Unlike his northern counterparts, Mayor Todd Larson of Farmington said his city could use a few more rentals.

Despite having the largest population surge in Dakota County, Farmington's rental rate remained constant at about 13 percent in 2000 and 2010, according to census numbers. More rentals would attract even more residents, Larson said.

"There's a demand there," Larson said. "People have to go outside of the city in order to rent."

Farmington numbers about 530 rental units.

"If rental units are strategically placed within the city, it would help the retail businesses also by putting bodies in those districts," he said.

Apple Valley's rental rate increased the most of any city in the south metro, from 12 percent to 19 percent.

"I don't see us as experiencing a dramatic jump, and I consider 19 percent of one's housing stock being rental is actually relatively low," said Bruce Nordquist, the city's community development director. "I know that condo associations often consider 20 percent of their units as rentals the maximum they allow, so that might serve as a guide as to what's an appropriate mix."

He and other city officials were on hand Friday morning to help celebrate the opening of Ecumen Seasons at Apple Valley, 15359 Founders Lane, a facility that feels like an upscale hotel and includes a creative arts studio, movie theater, guest suite and three dining options: "a casual café, restaurant-style dining and a private dining room." Mayor Mary Hammon-Roland said she's eaten there more than once, and "it's one of the best places in town to eat, with a wonderful chef."

Betty Dunn, 89, landed there after getting ill last fall and ending up at her daughter's place. She'd gone from living on acreage with her husband in Rosemount, to a townhouse, and the illness "made me realize this is the time.

"The main thing I told the kids was 'location location location,'" she said. "I want to be near the senior center, near the places I've always shopped, and I want to still see my friends -- it comes to a point where people stop driving and unless you're close, you won't see them any more."

Nicole Norfleet • 612-673-4495 David Peterson • 952-882-9023