Multifamily Developers: The Gateway to Senior Housing’s Future

Non-industry institutions like hospitals and national multifamily housing developers may soon find themselves at the gateway to the future of senior living development.

Driven by consumers’ desires for more walkable settings within close proximity to retail, restaurants and entertainment hubs, various studies have suggested the concept of the urbanized senior living community will be most attractive to Baby Boomers’ when it comes time for them to begin utilizing senior housing services.

Enter the future of senior living development, a concept that Alberto & Associates and its affiliate Ewing Cole, a national architecture and engineering firm, have been working on for several years.

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“Younger generations and particularly Boomers are interested in living in urban areas, so there’s a gravitation toward more downtown living,” says Quinn deMenna, AIA, and director of architecture for the senior living division at Alberto & Associates, a New Jersey-based company that provides architecture, planning and urban redevelopment services.

“The next generation isn’t going to be interested in the same product we’ve been offering to seniors—the suburban CCRC with its green field campus and ring road around it,” he added.

The firm envisions future design to resemble a senior living community within a larger community that features mixed-use developments such as retail, health care, multi-generational housing, among other social hubs for dining and entertainment.

“Rather than making a [senior living] community, it’s instead making it part of a bigger community,” deMenna says.

The concept is also rooted firmly in the idea of building partnerships with different types of service providers, including organizations specializing in senior living, health care, multifamily development, as well as park and office developers to create that new type of downtown living feel, he adds.

This concept, however, is often easier said than done, as developers are burdened with designing communities for a consumer base that won’t utilize senior living for at least another 15 years. At the same time, they are challenged even further when trying to build in urban areas where space is often tighter than more suburban sprawls.

That’s where health systems and national multifamily developers can be of assistance, especially as hospitals become more decentralized and expand their reach to other communities.

“There’s an idea that hospitals and health care systems are becoming more local,” says deMenna. “We’re seeing a trend toward more hospitals—even urban hospitals—creating spaces like medical office buildings and outpatient centers to reach beyond urban areas into suburban areas.”

And there’s an opportunity to take advantage of the real estate holdings these larger, institutional entities occupy.

“We’re seeing in health care, this new idea of ‘what can we do with all that real estate?’” deMenna says. “As urban hospitals are looking to reuse their real estate holdings in downtown areas, they’re looking to senior living providers and other developers to come up with new ways of using that real estate.”

But hospitals aren’t the only ticket to developing sprawling master-planned, mixed-use communities.

Working with national homebuilder Lennar Corporation (NYSE: LEN), Alberto & Associates is putting its vision into practice. Having worked together previously on active adult cottages in Waretown, N.J., the two firms are embarking on designing a master-planned community in Ewing Township, N.J., that would contain a mix of uses, including retail, office, residential as well as senior housing.

Through land that has become available via sell-off of General Motors’ real estate holdings, Lennar was awarded master developer for a 30-acre site to redevelop the land for commercial purposes. Currently, the site is undergoing remediation and environmental cleanup following the 2011 demolition of GM buildings that were formerly located on the grounds

While the full build-out of the development might not be complete for the next 30 years, developers are beginning to move forward with phasing plans. As for the proposed senior living component, Alberto & Associates is about ready to develop concepts for how this property type would coexist on the master-planned site.

“There’s is a ton of potential cross-pollenation to create better places within master-planned communities,” said Angelo Alberto, AIA, principal of Alberto & Associates. “This is where the market is moving, especially on the senior living side, because the typical senior in the next 10-15 years is going to want to have more of a town or cityscape lifestyle.”

Written by Jason Oliva

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