Working With Locals—A Senior Living Developer’s Friend and Foe


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Wandering residents. An increase in ambulance activity. Those are some of the common concerns voiced by residents and community leaders who sometimes oppose senior housing developments.


As conversations about building senior housing play out in local media outlets nationwide, developers who secure prime locations for their senior housing pipelines say marketing strategies that educate local community members about senior living are key to moving plans forward. And as competition between senior housing and other types of real estate for prime locations is likely to heat up as a growing number of prospective residents favor urban locations, those relationships at the local level will be all the more important.

It’s no secret that some markets are more senior living-friendly than others. In many of the more desirable cities in California, which have some of the country’s most stringent regulations for changing the zoning for core or downtown locations, community members must vote to approve any zoning-related changes. This means community input can make or break a senior housing development.

And opposition from locals of a proposed senior housing site’s community is common if the developer is eyeing prime real estate, such as in a downtown or main street area.


“We want to be in main street locations in densely populated townships,” says Daniel Gorham, partner with assisted living facility developer Kensington, adding that today and tomorrow’s residents also want to be in more vibrant, urban areas. “City council members will say, ‘We want senior housing, but not in the more vibrant, or core locations in town.’ Often city councils want to protect those downtown areas for residents who might be more active in terms of use of surrounding amenities, or for retail, which generates sales tax.”

Starting with Re-education

But educating local decision makers on all fronts — government officials, business owners and residents — is important to helping those outside the industry understand that senior living communities today are much more active than those of the past and that they add unique value.

“Seniors want to be in energetic, vibrant parts of town and enjoy visiting walkable amenities,” Gorham says. “And family and friends like that too. It’s more accessible for families to visit if it’s not off the beaten path.”

In addition, those who are weighing in on whether a senior housing development can move forward may also have preconceived notions of senior housing from past experiences that may be outdated.

“A lot of council members have had direct experience, that was not a happy experience, where their family member was in more of a warehousing environment instead of the attractive, active senior living communities you see today,” Gorham says. “There is this perception that we’re going to build an old folks home that’s going to be a dead weight [in the community].”

Collette Valentine, CEO and COO of Integral Senior Living, agrees that a lack of understanding about senior housing products has an impact on project development.

“We’ve seen this before in new communities we’ve opened where the residents of the community don’t truly understand what assisted living is which causes the opposition,” Valentine says. “They believe we are a place that has ambulances come numerous times a day and old people walking around lost in the streets. Our strategy as a company has been to attend city council meetings so that we can speak firsthand to the residents of a community and educate them on the lifestyle we provide our seniors and that we are a social model, not a medical model.”

Demonstrating a Benefit

Getting the green light to build is twofold, Gorham says, adding that in addition to educating local community members, developers should also be prepared to talk numbers and show how a senior housing community will benefit the local economy.

“We log all our visits at our communities,” Gorham says, noting that it is not unusual for a community to receive up to about 1,500 non-vendor visits monthly. “Those are family members and friends who are visiting and using the community outside of the senior housing campus in pretty significant ways. So, we’re driving a lot of economic activity.”

In addition, it’s important for developers to highlight the local business partnerships they plan to create.

“We talk about using local vendors,” Gorham says. “Working with local food vendors, caterers, flower shops, pharmacies — we’re going to try and drive as much economic activity to that area as possible.”

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Written by Cassandra Dowell

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