4 Ways Operators Are Reinventing Senior Housing

Whether it’s expanding to add more units or renovating an existing community for the modern era, senior living providers are tackling their construction projects with an eye towards the latest design trends.

Though several triggers can let providers know when it might be time for a makeover, there are a number of ways providers can reinvent their communities, according to one senior living design expert during a recent LeadingAge webinar.

1. Small Homes

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A tweaked version of the Green House concept, small homes have become a popular design trend for some providers striving to mimic the atmosphere of home and help ease the environmental transition of their residents.

“[Small homes] are a great example of ‘remember home?’” said Gregory Scott, partner at RLPS Architects, during the webinar, whose Lancaster, Penn.-based firm specializes in various senior living architecture from assisted living and skilled nursing, to memory care and continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs).

Small homes employ similar characteristics to the Green House model, in that they both provide smaller, more intimate abodes for about 10 to 12 individuals in a cottage-like building. Unlike their Green House predecessors, small homes don’t necessarily have to focus on skilled nursing care.

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Key elements of these housing types include the presence of a front door, a kitchen, living areas as the central focus for social interaction, along with an emphasis on maintaining public and private spaces within the house.

“At the end of the day you want to think big, but the reality is you have to start small and you have to start somewhere,” Scott said.

2. Hybrid Homes

In a similar vein to small homes, hybrid homes provide a single-family residence in a complex structure, almost like a “hybrid” between a cottage, apartment and condo-type living.

“What it boils down to is cottage amenities in an apartment setting,” said Scott.

Hybrid home units can range anywhere from 615-square-feet to 2,000-square-feet, and depending on the market can cost between $125 to $175 per square foot, Scott said. Their compact footprint, affordability and opportunity to build social connections make hybrid homes attractive to a younger clientele than the average senior living resident.

Some providers have already taken notice of this phenomenon by adding hybrid homes to their existing campuses as well as in their expansion plans, including Givens Estates, a CCRC in Asheville, N.C., which already has these types of living options

Last month, Westminster Village, a CCRC in West Lafayette, Ind., announced it will break ground this fall on a $36 million expansion. A core phase of the project includes building a new three-building residential area to house 54 hybrid homes.

Though still early in the construction process, the first hybrid home building at Westminster Village is already 100% pre-sold, while the second had already sold 17 of its 18 units as of September 1.

“They’re clearly attracting a younger senior because in their minds it’s more like condo living,” said Scott.

3. Pocket Neighborhoods

Reminiscent of bungalow housing that emerged following World War II, pocket neighborhoods embrace the concept of “living within gardens,” said Scott.

Usually a single-story house with a broad front porch, pocket neighborhoods, like bungalows, foster the connection of interior living with the outside.

RLPS Architects is currently working on a pocket-style redevelopment project for Rose Villa Senior Living, a nonprofit CCRC in Portland, Ore. The $60 million project will see to the construction of 40 cottages, as well as a “Main Street” village where several mixed-use building will provide various amenities on campus, including retail space, cafes, dining, a wine bar, among other services.

While the number of units within the pocket neighborhoods largely depends on the scope of the project, they can house anywhere from 75 to 90 residents, as with Rose Villa. However, builders should be wary when considering whether the pocket-style design is the right fit for their community.

“The concept is universal and can be applied to different locations, but you have to respect the regional style and architecture of the area you’re building in,” said Scott.

4. Downtown CCRCs

Perhaps one of the most difficult projects to undertake, downtown CCRCs are a “hot ticket” right now for several reasons.

“Urbanomics—essentially, it’s goodbye cornfields and hello downtown,” he said.

Walkability continues to be a prime factor among older adults’ retirement preferences. Roughly one-third of Americans age 50 and older desire walkable destinations for their retirement, according to a December 2011 AARP “Lifelong Villages” poll.

Additionally, as baby boomers retire, the senior housing penetration rate could be in for a surge as they sell their homes and move toward amenities in urban centers nationwide, suggests the Urban Land Institute in its “Emerging Trends in Real Estate 2014” report.

Despite consumer preferences, developing in an urban area where land is tighter than it would be in the suburbs is challenging and usually what some developers have called a “balancing act.”

Though tighter land sites tend to attract higher rents, building “vertically” as opposed to horizontally can help developers save on land costs, however, building much-needed features like underground parking and including materials compliant with building codes can also have cost implications.

Any redevelopment or expansion has cost implications, but the consequences of not undertaking a project could be higher than the price of construction.

“Not being able to do anything is not an excuse for doing nothing,” said Scott.

Written by Jason Oliva