Developers Jump on Colorado’s Senior Housing Surge

Colorado is known for attracting people with active lifestyles and retirees are no exception, prompting developers to gear up for a growing senior population by adding thousands of units of 55+ and senior housing to the state’s existing inventory—far above national construction levels.

The second quarter of 2013 logged 8,840 units of various types of senior housing and care planned and under development in Colorado ranging from age-restricted, for-sale homes to skilled nursing, according to market research firm The Highland Group. Nationally, construction vs. inventory stood at 2.8% as of the second quarter of 2013, according to data from the National Investment Center for the Seniors Housing & Care Industry.

Memory care development is on a torrential upswing in Colorado with future demand expected to far outpace current supply. The more than 1,400 units planned and under construction will expand existing inventory by about 73%, indicates second quarter data from Denver, Colo.-based The Highland Group.

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The other “big surge” the research firm is seeing: developers are addressing the boomer market, as opposed to older seniors, and the inventory of market-rate 55+ apartments is set to increase by almost 40%. Borden says her group is tracking several planned or under-construction age-qualified apartment communities and multifamily product that’s primarily appealing to baby boomers up to people in their early 70s.

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Chart credit: The Highland Group, 2013

“Colorado in general, in terms of the overall population, is a very active and fit state, so the seniors who are moving in fit that same profile. What they’re looking for is some sort of housing, whether it’s equity, rental, or maybe even a traditional continuing care retirement community where they can still pick and choose what they want to do,” says Moraine Byrne, president of Ontrac Management Services, a member of Covenant Retirement Services. “It’s very choice-driven.”

Ontrac Management operates a just-opened 55+ rental apartment complex that was renovated from an old city office building after signing onto the project while the building was “just a shell.”

The Bella Vita development is pioneering a new model in Colorado focused on units designed for aging in place where residents can bring in services as they need or desire, according to Byrne. Ontrac was brought in to work with architects to design a community that matched up with what prospects wanted.

“Colorado is starting to adapt to what the baby boomers are saying they want and don’t want,” says Byrne. “Whatever is designed or built, it has to be functional and it has to match the market. [For Bella Vita,] many seniors told us they want a safe, secure location, and a physical plant design so they can age in place. They want choice over what’s being brought in.”

Colorado is “definitely” a destination point for retirees, according to Byrne, a high percentage of whom are moving in from around the country.  Even though the 65+ population today—and even over the next five years—is not as high as the aged population you see elsewhere, she says, there’s been an influx of seniors from out of state.

People aged 65 and older comprise just 11.8% of Colorado’s overall population, beneath the national average of 13.7%, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. But the proportion of Colorado’s 60+ population is growing—expected to comprise 21% of the state’s residents by 2030—while the under-60 crowd is shrinking, according to Census Bureau projections.

“We’ve been advising people for that kind of product to go for active, engaged, mixed-use areas that are walkable, instead of trying to attract boomers somewhere way out in the suburbs,” says Borden.

The other highly active areas for development are memory care and assisted living, says Borden, with many developers still cautious about the market for new independent living construction. Some developers are choosing to build independent living to assisted living code to gain flexibility.

MorningStar Senior Living, Erickson Living, and Spectrum Retirement number among active developers who are either currently building or have recently completed memory care and assisted living projects.

Erickson Living recently opened a new assisted living and memory care addition to its Wind Crest community, while MorningStar at Mountain Shadows moved its first residents into a new assisted living and memory property in mid-September. MorningStar and Spectrum both have multi-million dollar pipelines in-process or planned in Colorado and nationwide.

Written by Alyssa Gerace

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