Not Just Cities Will Win the Urban Senior Housing Game

Senior housing development returned to city centers following the economy’s rebound from the 2008 recession, with providers taking advantage both of an improved financial climate and inherent opportunity within urban fabrics. Now, senior living might consider taking an urban approach to markets outside of metro areas and find that they’ll reap similar benefits, as innovative new companies redefine what urban senior housing looks like—and where it’s located.

Not Just Downtown

Take the sprawling continuing care retirement community (CCRC) campuses that come to mind when thinking of suburban development as an example. While several acres make for quite an expansive and all-inclusive development, there’s much to say about walkability, intergenerational interactions and access to the community at large that go hand-in-hand with urban models. But these characteristics can be accomplished without building directly in a city’s downtown.


“It isn’t necessarily a move to downtown, but it may be a move to a more walkable area than where [seniors] already are,” Ryan Frederick, CEO and Founder of Smart Living 360, tells Senior Housing News. “Senior housing models, for the most part, are not very walkable.”

Turning instead to mixed use areas rather than a large plot of land solely meant for a senior housing campus can enable easy movement from place to place and prevent a sense of isolation, he says. Part of that means determining how to create spaces that work for people of any age—not just young adults, and not only the elderly population.

“This age-restricted designation that we have for housing, I really thing it’s a relic of old housing policies,” Frederick suggests.


Another appeal of urban-esque development is the possibility of attracting a younger subset of the senior population that the industry has yet to tap. The mean age of independent living residents is 80.6, according to the American Seniors Housing Association, with most residents moving in between the ages of 75 and 84. But that could change if potential senior living residents see integration within the broader community and a significant emphasis on autonomy.

The ‘Blue Apron’ Effect

Urban developments’ plug for more independent seniors, in particular, largely has to do with less of a need for full-fledged services. When there are built-in amenities around you, including restaurants, shops and entertainment, developers can be more efficient when it comes to drawing up dining and programming spaces, for example.

“You don’t need a lot of the things that are right at the bottom of the elevator anyway,” says Dan Madsen, CEO and Chairman of Seattle, Washington-based Leisure Care, an owner, operator and developer of senior living communities in 11 states, Canada and Mexico. “It’s kind of a different world.”

Beyond downsizing the square footage of common areas, operations can be adjusted, as well. With grocery stores within walking distance, a provider might not need to offer the same level of a dining or transportation program as they usually might, Frederick says. Instead, senior living could embrace the likes of Blue Apron, a company that delivers fresh ingredients and their associated recipes directly to residences, and Uber, the smartphone app that lets people request and automatically pay for car rides as needed—not feel threatened.

“One of the challenges traditional senior housing providers have is they need to be really good at transportation and dining,” Frederick says. “A lot of innovation is happening outside of senior living, so rather than compete, [providers] can find ways to partner with those innovations.”

Regardless of the approach taken, the partnerships forged or the advantages in taking the urban mindset to different areas, it’s important first and foremost to research before developing, Madsen says. That could mean meeting with focus groups or seniors that already live in a specific downtown area to get a better sense of what they like, dislike, and want from their living situations.

“I would say the attraction to urban settings has been fairly aggressive with a certain profile, a certain sociographic group, that are seeking more of a metropolitan lifestyle,” he says. “What types of communities come of that is going to be interesting to watch.”

Written by Kourtney Liepelt

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