While some senior living providers are building communities with upscale amenities or spacious dwellings to attract younger residents, one Bay Area company sees co-housing as a way to achieve this goal.
Alameda, California-based AEC Living has two assisted living communities and also offers rehabilitation and home care services in the city. The business is family-run, with brother-and-sister Lauren Zimmerman Cook and Stephen Zimmerman as AEC’s CEO and COO, respectively. Their father, Christian Zimmerman, founded the company almost 50 years ago.
In 2016, AEC opened Phoenix Commons, a 41-unit, $19 million senior co-housing property that functions almost like a small town. Unlike an assisted or independent living community, it’s Phoenix Common’s residents who plan meals, hold meetings, set rules and check up on one another.
“That’s the biggest thing about co-housing. It’s about getting back to having that village feel,” Zimmerman Cook told Senior Housing News. “It’s not like a townhouse where you park in your parking space and you go into your house through the garage.”
Condos are owned by residents and range in floor plans and price, with the most affordable starting at $339,000 and the most expensive at $763,000. Amenities include a hobby room, laundry room, fitness center, hot tub, a private dock connected to San Francisco Bay, a large common kitchen and close proximity to local shopping and restaurants. The average resident at Phoenix Commons is between 62 and 67 years old.
In the past, many senior living operators have been wary to develop multifamily products such as 55+ or active adult buildings, but that trend could be breaking down as they scour markets for younger seniors. And while senior co-housing is not a new trend in general, it’s not common for traditional senior living providers to develop such properties—for now.
“It’s smart to look at developing both. I think there’s going to be demand waves,” Zimmerman Cook said. “Having a difference in stock means that if there’s a lull in one [senior housing type], that you have other seniors.”
‘Building your own pipeline’
For AEC, the decision to build a co-housing community had one big appeal right off the bat: referrals. The idea is that the senior living provider can entice residents at Phoenix Commons to move into one of its nearby assisted living communities or pay for its home care or outpatient rehab services as they need it.
“We are basically a CCRC, but not on one campus,” Zimmerman Cook said. “And without the contract, either. Because then if people don’t want to come to us [for services later], they don’t have to.”
AEC also sweetens the pot by giving every resident at Phoenix Commons a small discount on home care and guaranteeing them a spot in one of its communities.
“Providing housing for a younger group increases the people you are servicing and therefore increases the flow of people coming in later,” Zimmerman Cook said. “You’re building your pipeline.”
Phoenix Commons is about two-thirds full, and just a handful of residents have gone on to use AEC’s services thus far. But that number is expected grow as more seniors age in the community.
“The longer you are involved in a senior’s life…the more likely you are to have them in the end,” Zimmerman Cook said.
Written by Tim Regan