Award-Winning Senior Housing Design Hinges on These Key Features

The future of designing senior housing presents quite the conundrum for developers and operators, especially when it comes to making that housing affordable: While the demand for the product is clear, the challenges in building these facilities are often insurmountable.

Enter: an innovative solution that combines financing alternatives with unique amenities and cost-saving natural resources.

Such was the strategy of a team of graduate students at New York University, which designed a plan for the redevelopment of an affordable senior housing high-rise in Houma, La.

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The team’s project — which won the second annual student design and planning competition hosted by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) — could pave the way for further innovation in the sector, and transform the lives of residents in that community.

“The design that won could be a game changer in that area of Houma,” says Margaret Wylde, CEO of ProMatura Group, LLC, and the competition’s lead judge. “It could really help spruce it up and create a sense of pride. When you start seeing someone taking care of an area or have a nice building come in, it can move beyond just that building.”

Among the team members involved in designing the redevelopment were Constantine Caloudas, Michelle Guber, Peter Iovanella, Matthew Jupin and Christopher Hayner.

The group, which will receive a $20,000 award, was praised by the competition’s judges for the design’s architectural style, incorporation of a variety of ground-floor retail options and on-site services, and its financing scheme.

“They hit all of the elements that we were looking for, and came up with an incredibly attractive product,” Wylde says.

Unique Design Features ‘Bring Community Together’

In the world of senior housing, connectedness is king, and the NYU team’s design was no exception.

From its integration of an on-site child care center to promote intergenerational activities, to the use of natural resources to minimize costs, and the incorporation of Louisiana vernacular to complement the surrounding neighborhood — the design seemingly centered around a theme of connection.

“We really envisioned our project as a soluion that not only provided senior housing, but created community impact on a larger level,” says team member Caloudas, who is pursuing a master’s in real estate.

For the team, creating a central hub in the community was essential, and that meant carefully considering its ground-floor retail and service spaces, which would house a variety of businesses and services, including an early childhood development center, a pharmacy, physical therapy space, doctor’s office and a coffee shop.

“This could become a hub in the community, in that it would bring community together — and that was one of their primary themes,” Wylde says. “It could serve as a catalyst to start to change this neighborhood by drawing people in and lifting people up as well.”

Designed with sustainability in mind, the six-story building would use natural resources to maximize efficiencies and minimize costs.

Among other design elements, solar thermal panels would reduce energy for hot water; operable louvers would allow for plenty of air flow within units; sunshades and thick exterior walls would help keep interior temperatures comfortable while lowering electricity costs; and a storm-water retention pond would collect water for re-use.

But the affordable senior housing complex also needed to fit in with the character of the surrounding area, which led the team to use more of the lot’s footprint to decrease the building’s density, integrate traditional Louisiana architectural features and create a link to the region’s culture.

“This project really helped the team flex our muscles in terms of really thinking about creative problem-solving, and developing a solution from the ground up,” Caloudas says.

Tug of War in Affordable Senior Housing Development 

While the project was the first foray into senior housing for many of the graduate students on the team, Caloudas says the demand for affordable senior housing became clear, yet meeting that demand remains a steep challenge.

“Affordable senior housing is a critical issue,” he says. “While a lot of development activity is catering toward higher-end senior housing, there’s really a proven demand for affordable senior housing, especially as seniors are on fixed incomes and are living longer and needing those housing solutions.”

Previous research indicated that while a growing number of the population will require the care that assisted living or nursing home facilities provide, the cost of such housing is too much for the average older homeowner and renter.

Despite the demand, there are often strict barriers to pursuing affordable senior housing, leading some developers to avoid the complicated process — and product — altogether.

“The challenge is that it’s much more difficult to build affordable senior housing, because the resources that facilitate the redevelopment of affordable senior housing are very scarce,” Caloudas says. “If you’re pursuing the 9% low-income housing tax credit, for example, not only is that tax credit very competitive, but in states like Louisiana, you’re capped at receiving 750,000 tax credits per year on a single project, which creates a more challenging financing scenario.”

So coming up with innovative financing solutions was a must for the teams. In addressing the issue, Caloudas’ group devised a strategy that involved the legal separation of the building into two condos in order to qualify for additional tax credits.

“In traditional multifamily affordable housing, you can only pursue either the 9% low-income housing tax credit or the 4% low-income housing tax credit,” Caloudas says. “So by creating two separate condos for the residential side, we were able to facilitate the use of both forms of tax credits.”

And for some real estate veterans evaluating the project, the team’s idea presented a unique financing solution that they didn’t know existed.

“A couple of the seasoned jurors said, ‘You can do that?’ One of them said, ‘I’m going to go back and look that up — that’s a very good idea,’” Wylde says.

“It was fun that they had some elements in their design that two jurors who are involved in developing affordable housing didn’t know about. That was a very clever element.”

Looking ahead, Caloudas plans to continue to pursue affordable housing and said this project has made him open to pursuing affordable senior housing in the future.

“The competition made the prospect of working in senior housing more realistic and more attractive,” he says. “Real estate development is a discipline that involves innovation and we were able to show that innovation is not exclusive to class-A luxury buildings — you can be innovative and creative in affordable housing projects that serve seniors.”

Written by Emily Study

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