Multifamily Trends May Herald Bigger Senior Living Units

It’s the million-dollar question: what will baby boomers want when they move into senior living communities en masse?

One recent debate is whether it’s better to go big or go small with regard to unit size. Some senior living innovators see the future of the industry in better, not bigger, units. Dr. Bill Thomas, well-known for pioneering small-house models of senior care, took that idea a step further when he recently introduced MAGIC, a concept that involves tiny dwellings built through modular construction.

Taking cues from multifamily developers, there is also a strong case to be made that bigger is indeed better.

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Thinking big

As baby boomers move out of suburban homes, many are flocking to multifamily rentals, especially high-end apartments in urban areas, according to Mark Culwell, managing director of multifamily development for privately held real estate services company Transwestern.

“Everybody realized that the baby boomers were generating as much as 30% of the demand for multifamily products…which has been a little bit of a surprise,” Culwell told Senior Housing News. “You want a nice place to live and you want to be close to great neighborhood amenities. We’re seeing a lot of demand for that.”

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Anecdotally, Culwell has observed boomers choosing apartments that have designs and floorplans resembling those in single-family homes. As logic dictates, those preferences could follow baby boomers as they start to move into senior living units over the next decade.

“These guys have 30 to 40 years of possessions they’ve accumulated and which tell some of their life story, and they’re a little bit reluctant to toss that aside and move into a senior housing community that averages 525 square feet [per unit,]” Culwell said. “Many times, they’re healthy, and they entertain at home. That alone requires a bigger floor plan and unit mix.”

And it’s not just Culwell with that notion. Baby boomers may seek out more spacious apartment units as they downsize from their homes, according to a recent report by the National Multifamily Housing Council.

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Immigration trends might also drive up demand for bigger apartments on the multifamily side, as certain immigrant groups may seek to keep extended family living together for long periods of time. In turn, that could mean senior housing providers of the future will think about accommodating larger groups of people, not just singles and doubles.

“Single housing rental units and larger apartment units will observe the most demand pressures from this demographic trend,” the multifamily housing report noted. “With lower-than-average income, rental unit affordability stress suggests that low-amenity, larger units will be in very high demand for some time.”

There is some evidence that senior living providers are starting to take these ideas to heart. Indiana-based BHI Senior Living, for example, spent millions of dollars adding 30 new luxury duplexes at its 395-unit Hoosier Village community in Indianapolis. The duplexes have many of the same design features you’d see in a standalone single-family house, such as front porches, oversized two-car garages, open floor plans and upscale kitchens.

Larger units, more choices

Some senior living architects have also noted the changing design trends. These days, many senior living providers are gearing up to offer prospective residents two things: bigger dwellings and more choices, according to Jeff Anderzhon, a senior planner and design architect at Eppstein Uhen Architects.

“We are seeing larger residential spaces requested from our clients. This occurs across all levels of care,” Anderzhon told SHN.

For example, some providers have added one-bedroom independent living apartments with dens, or other kinds of dwellings where residents and more easily age in place.

Anderzhon highlighted one of his clients, which recently decreased the number of assisted living units offered while increasing the number of senior apartments on campus. The understanding was that all of the apartments should be universally designed to accommodate any kind of resident, short of licensed nursing care.

“Their belief is that this is a more integrative community, that residents would completely avoid transfer trauma, and that it will be well-situated for the economic and care requirements of future generations,” Anderzhon said.

Above all else, baby boomers want choice, he added. That includes all facets of senior living, such as meals, amenities, activities and fitness programs.

“Boomers don’t want to be tied to a specific meal program or meal sit-down time. They want menu choices,” he said. “They want amenity choices that fulfill them intellectually, physically and spiritually. Guest lecturers, continuing education, personal exercise trainers, healthy meals and having a place where they can sit with a glass of wine and enjoy the sunset on a summer’s evening.”

Written by Tim Regan

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