High-end touches and amenities may be the ”future” of luxury senior living design. But declining state and federal funding for affordable seniors housing creates challenges for operators eager to keep pace with emerging design trends while serving a growing aging population in need of low-cost housing.
One in five older adults age 65 to 74 spends more than half their income on housing, while that number rises to one in four for people age 85 and older, according to the Center for Housing Policy. In California alone, about 1 million households of all ages lack affordable homes.
But catering to this demographic while providing high-end amenities, such as a bistro dining and granite countertops, can be done.
Indeed, such amenities can be seen in American Baptist Homes of the West (ABHOW) subsidiary Beacon Communities’ senior homes. ABHOW, a nonprofit senior housing and health care provider, reorganized its affordable housing division as Beacon Communities, effective Jan. 1 of this year.
More Than A Beautiful Building
Beacon, which serves more than 2,500 residents in 33 communities, continues to develop new properties and reposition others with forward-thinking design through its relationships with community stakeholders, says Beacon President Ancel Romero.
The company previously announced a total of 10 development and redevelopment projects in its pipeline for 2015, and expects to take on three to five new projects yearly.
To pay for this work, Beacon builds partnerships with other nonprofits and for-profit investors and uses alternative financing, such as tax credits, he says. The company’s development projects are overseen by its Seattle-based subsidiary, Beacon Development Group—acquired earlier this year.
“We secure funds as early on in the process as possible,” he says about bringing these projects to fruition. “We have to justify the improvements beyond just aesthetics. How will this improve energy efficiency and longevity?”
For example, granite lasts longer than wood, he says about why this material is now used for residents’ countertops.
“We’re creating picture perfect, beautiful homes with alcoves, bistros and nice apartments,” he says.
But being more than just a beautiful building is key to best supporting residents and convincing prospective stakeholders about these projects’ value.
“We bring in resources such as Meals on Wheels, doctor and nurse visits, tai chi and dance classes, English as a second language courses and more,” he says. Activities take place in facilities’ community rooms.
Partners to Support the Mission
Building relationships with churches and other nonprofits that own the property also allows Beacon to create affordable housing. Beacon then remains committed to these construction and redevelopment projects by becoming co-owner.
One example of Beacon’s remodeling projects includes the $19 million redevelopment of Beacon’s 44-year-old Rotary Plaza in South San Francisco, Calif., currently owned by Rotary Plaza, Inc. Beacon is a co-owner in this project.
Also part of Beacon’s 10-project pipeline is its work with Sunnyvale Life, Inc. to redevelop Life’s Garden in Sunnyvale, Calif., and Riverside First Baptist Homes, Inc., to redevelop Mount Rubidoux Manor in Riverside, Calif. Funding for both projects will come from low-income housing tax credits and other public and private sources. Beacon will become co-owners in these projects as well.
The company is also building a new 93-unit project for low-income seniors in the downtown area of South San Francisco through its leverage of funding sources.
After the completion of these projects, a bistro will be one of the first things residents notice, Romero says. The bistro, along with activity programming, helps promote socialization.
“With the continuing decline of senior services and resources, the concern is that residents become more and more isolated and stay within their apartments,” he says. “At the bistro, residents can have coffee and a pastry or bring their own food. It provides an occasion to socialize outside of their apartments.”
Beacon’s acquisition of Beacon Development Group has helped the organization to see these developments through, Romero says, noting the development arm has a new office in California in addition to its Washington office.
“Our communities in California have benefited a lot from what they do,” he says, adding it has helped the company to negotiate with city officials and reduce impact fees. “We don’t want to be charged the same fees you would charge a market-rate community. We do that early on in the process, and that’s a skill Beacon Development Group is really good at.”
In addition, the acquisition has strengthened relationships with architects who have helped to “streamline the design” of these communities while helping them retain unique features.
“Streamline designs, which can be duplicated based on similar site characteristics, can offer tremendous savings in development costs,” he says, noting the company also takes care to avoid “cookie cutter apartments.”
For example, bistros in each community are often off to the side of the lobby to create a “cozy corner,” he says. But the mural on each bistro wall differs by reflecting the community it is in.
“The murals typically depict scenes of the surrounding town during the decades our residents were young and coming of age,” he says. “Many of our residents grew up in these communities. We have depictions of what that town looked like in the ’40s or ’50s.”
Ultimately, the communities are meant to do more than just meet a need for affordable housing.
“Putting sheer demographics aside for the demand for the communities we produce, these communities are invested in giving a sense a pride to our residents,” Romero says. “Just because they are not as financially well off as others does not mean they shouldn’t have access to the nice aesthetics and services that may be available to others.”
Written by Cassandra Dowell