In 2030, the year the last baby boomers will turn 65, it is estimated that one in five Americans will be 65 or older. The trend is similar around the globe: Worldwide, the number of people aged 60 and over is projected to hit 1.4 billion in 2030, which is a 56% jump from 901 million in 2015, according to the United Nations. As this segment of the population ages into senior status, they have a variety of housing options to consider that meet their individual wants and needs.
The sheer number of offerings and specialized types of care available in senior housing is a major shift from a couple decades ago, says Steve Ring, managing principal at Fulcrum Real Estate & Development, which develops assisted living and memory care facilities. “Twenty years ago, the term ‘assisted living’ was fairly new, and memory care communities were almost nonexistent,” says Ring, a former IREM president.
Today’s seniors have a vast array of options:
- Active adult communities, which typically cater to those adults over the age of 55 who are able to live without assistance
- Independent living housing, for seniors who can live on their own but want ease of housekeeping, maintenance, and available meals
- Assisted living communities, which offer assistance with daily activities and needs, such as bathing, and may have available nursing or medical care
- Nursing homes, which provide a higher level of medical care or other assistance around the clock
- Memory care communities, which are specifically designed to meet the needs of seniors with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia
Within each of these types of facilities, there can also be low-income options or tax-credit communities.
What seniors want
More options mean more opportunities for seniors to get exactly what they are looking for in housing.
For seniors moving into an independent living environment, the main draw is right there in the name: independence. Avanath Realty Senior Vice President Toni Harris, CPM, ARM, who is based in Alexandria, Virginia, says seniors moving into the low-income independent living communities she oversees want their lives generally untouched.
“One of the things that has changed in 10 years is that seniors are looking to move into communities where they have more control over their lives and decision-making,” says Harris, adding that many want to stay in their hometowns. “They want to keep their familiar routines.”
Similarly, location is the No. 1 factor for prospective tenants looking for affordable senior housing in the Boston area where Peter Lewis, CPM, NAHP-e, CGPM, works. Lewis, executive vice president of property management at the Schochet Companies, AMO, says some seniors will wait for years to live in their preferred location.
“For residents who want to stay in Boston, they may be on a waitlist for up to 10 years, whereas locations further outside of the city limits may have only a six-month to one-year wait,” he says.
As for assisted living and memory care residents and their families, Ring says the key desires are safety and quality of care, followed by a delicious and healthy menu.
Along with the desire for independence, Harris says her residents are looking for a fitness center, pool or water activities, and cooking or financial literacy classes. “They want convenience, better health, and a sense of community where they can interact with neighbors. They don’t want to feel isolated.”
One way that Avanath facilitates connection is through its “Activate” program, which focuses on health and wellness and promotes an active lifestyle through classes, exercise, and quarterly events. They also partner with local providers, such as holistic wellness practitioners, to enhance the lives of the residents.
During the pandemic, Harris says they have held contact-free events, such as jazz music played in the corridors, so the residents could listen safely from their apartments.
Supporting the transitions
Roughly 90% of seniors want to stay in their current homes or communities as long as possible, according to AARP. The transition to senior living demands sensitivity and caring from property managers and staff. “One of the programs I started looking into is grief counseling,” Harris says. “Grief doesn’t only have to be for the loss of a loved one; it can arise from the loss of a lifestyle. We know that homesick seniors are at a higher risk of stress, depression, and illness, and we want resources in place to reduce that risk.”
Some communities offer the full continuum of care—providing independent living options, as well as nursing or memory care facilities if and when the need to transition arises, but these communities are an unrealistic option for many seniors, Ring says. “The continuum of care community, or CCRC, is a great concept for the right individual,” Ring says. “Unfortunately, it usually comes with a large upfront fee that the majority of the elderly population can’t afford.”
Ring says the communities he develops answer this need by offering month-to-month pricing structures with a minimal move-in fee. “We believe this is a popular model for the future,” Ring says. “In many cases, you can move in with little or no need for the assistance and as you age in place, assistance can be offered to you in your unit.”
For Lewis, one of his properties is working on an application under the Section 8 Renewal Guide – Chapter 15 program to offer an additional suite of services, such as technology programs, a wellness nurse, hairdresser, blood pressure clinic, and a variety of ways to address food insecurity.
“We’re just trying to enhance the level of care and create more touch points to make sure they are OK, getting the food they need, and keeping them in place longer,” Lewis says.
For residents who need to move from independent living to a nursing home or assisted living, helping with the transition is imperative, Harris says. Her communities never impose a penalty for breaking a lease in these situations. “We have policies in place to help them with that, and we work closely with caretakers and family,” she says.
Lewis agrees that this transition needs to be handled gently, especially when the move is suggested by the senior housing manager with the interest and safety of the resident in mind.
The future of senior housing
Technology is already having a huge impact on senior housing, as evidenced by the COVID-19 pandemic. By helping residents learn how to use Zoom and FaceTime or implementing temperature scanners and ultraviolet technology for sanitation, technology has proven its place.
Lewis expects tech to continue to make an impact on operations through advances such as occupancy sensors to check for movement in an apartment as a safety and wellness touch point, as well as online tools to request repairs, allow for payments, and facilitate the income certification process.
Even with technological advances, all property managers agree that the heart and soul of senior housing will never change.
“In the end, it’s about the people and not the real estate,” Ring says, remembering what a CEO told him when he entered the business. “Don’t cut corners, and always make sure the food is top notch. The residents will notice when you substitute the Club Crackers with Saltines.”
Adds Harris, “You have to have the same passion as if your mother or grandmother lived there. That is what leads to success in senior housing.”