As the affordable housing crisis continues to impact senior living, an upstart developer is looking to fill in the gaps in service for middle-class seniors making the transition to the space.
Prime Senior Living Group is developing a construction pipeline of independent living communities across the mid-South, targeting the middle market. The Charlotte, North Carolina-based company broke ground this month on a 145-unit community in Knoxville, Tennessee, Prime President of Development Debra Maynard told Senior Housing News.
“We believe there is a lack of true independent living that is committed to staying independent living, that will continue to attract healthy, active seniors,” she said.
A veteran executive team
Prime’s executive team has 90 years of cumulative experience. CEO Joel Locker is a respected financial analyst and researcher with a background in Wall Street. Other members of the C-Suite have backgrounds in land acquisition and construction. Maynard has deep roots in senior housing.
Her career in senior housing began shortly after graduating from college in 1995, when she landed a job with a pre-Sodexo Marriott Management Services as food service director for a Charlotte-area continuing care retirement community (CCRC). From there, she joined another Charlotte provider, Resources for Senior Living, and worked her way to vice president of food services before the company was acquired by Five Star Senior Living (NYSE: FVE).
In 2004, Maynard joined Minneapolis-based senior living operator Grace Management. Over the next 10 years, she rose up the corporate ranks to director of development and discovered a passion for construction, startups and leasing.
“I seemed to always be the last person standing whenever there was a construction, merger, change or buyout,” she said.
When Grace was acquired by Chicago Pacific Founders in 2014, Maynard worked as a consultant for three years, during which time she was introduced to Locker through mutual friends at Grace. It was Locker who suggested the pair pursue building middle market independent living, as his research showed there it was an area ripe for growth.
The mid-South, in particular, provides access to affordable plots of land in densely populated zip codes, where they realize strong long-term rent growth.
“Joel never wavered on what he wanted,” Maynard said.
Despite the executive team’s qualifications, Prime found reluctance among investors it reached out to for backing because they had not done anything together, Maynard told SHN.
“People want to see a track record,” she said.
Eventually, Prime found two investors who were attracted to the middle-market strategy and willing to accept the risk of backing a new executive team. Prime received its initial funding in January, Maynard said.
The target tenant: healthy seniors
Prime plans to cater its communities to seniors who cannot afford luxury senior living but earn too much to afford government housing assistance, Maynard told SHN. Rents at the provider’s Knoxville community will start at $2,395/month and include three prepared meals daily.
The apartments will be one- and two-bedroom units with granite countertops, full kitchens with stainless steel appliances, crown molding and direct access to the community’s outdoor amenities, where residents can commingle and develop a sense of community.
Other amenities include a theater room, multipurpose rooms, a putting green, pickleball courts, a billiards room, a cafe, a hair and nail salon, computer kiosks and a fitness room. The amenity packages are geared toward healthy, active seniors regardless of age. Prime believes that by tailoring its amenities to the healthy, active senior, it helps keep staffing costs low and justifies the rents, as foodservice will account for the majority of staffing costs.
“Age is just a number after 50,” Maynard said. “There are plenty of active 90-year-olds who would be a fit for our communities.”
The most unique amenity in Prime’s upcoming Knoxville community is a hydroponic greenhouse where residents can grow their own herbs, spices and greens. This will also benefit the foodservice department, which can incorporate what residents grow into their meals.
To allow for longer aging in place, Prime Senior Housing Group will partner with a telehealth company, which will allow residents to schedule appointments and physicals with their doctors without having to travel.
With the construction of the Knoxville community underway, Prime is busy assembling a pipeline of further development sites. It has a site selected for another project in Charlotte and two more sites identified in suburban Atlanta, a market already experiencing tremendous growth.
Prime intends to keep its development model the same — three- to four-story buildings containing 145-150 units, Maynard told SHN, and she believes the model will serve as its own marketing tool.
“People have a mindset they have to downsize, but are unaware there is a social model that can reduce isolation and provide services for an affordable cost and improve their lifestyles,” she said. “When we can get people engaged and meet others who made that choice, the residents are our greatest sales tool.”