Why It’s Time to Redefine CCRCs for the Next Generation

Continuing care retirement communities (CCRC) have adhered to a paint-by-numbers design and construction model for decades, but this could be changing.

The expected stampede of baby boomers in need of senior living over the next decade is expected to change the design paradigm, as well as what will be expected of CCRCs. Developers and operators such as Garden Spot Village and the Avamere Family of Companies are laying the groundwork for the next generation of CCRCs, and the heavy demands of the boomers.

“CCRCs need to be all things for all people,” Point Development Company Chief Development Officer Ryan Haller said during Senior Housing News’ BUILD conference May 8 in Chicago.


Point Development Company, the development arm of Avamere, is launching Ovation, a “micro-CCRC” concept, in secondary and tertiary markets across the western U.S. Garden Spot Communities CEO Steve Lindsety also spoke at BUILD; Garden Spot is approaching building tomorrow’s CCRC via “pocket neighborhoods” and “coperative living.”

These developments aim to make CCRCs, and senior living, accessible to seniors on budgets, eliminate six-figure entry fees and create authentic senses of community. The discussion also touched upon development headwinds and other obstacles to building CCRCs, and why the industry needs to take redefining what a CCRC is seriously, now.

This interview has been edited for clarity.


How do you see the CCRC model changing in the next 5-10 years?

Steve Lindsey: There are a couple trends we need to pay attention to. One we’ve clued ourselves into is we’re living in a post-demographic society. More and more, people can’t be put into a box by age, gender, socioeconomic status. Ten,fifteen years ago, based on that information, we could predict what people wanted. But we’re living in a connected world, which means people are exposed to ideas, concepts and trends more than they used to be. This gives them the opportunity to recreate or customize their lifestyle and identity. We can no longer build for old people — we can build for [all] people, which is refreshing and exciting.

We use the metaphor of the outhouse when discussing building CCRCs. When they were first developed, they were this revolutionary concept. They’re still available in some parts of the country, they still function the way they’re designed. But it’s never anyone’s first choice.

Garden Spot Communities CEO Steve Lindsey

The other, more important trend deals with the expectation curve — the idea that people expect more and better [from senior living]. As baby boomers enter the market, their expectation is not only will they have more by moving in, they will be more, as well. It’s this idea that now is the time [for seniors] to think about legacy, purpose and meaning.

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As we look at our model, our challenge is to look at our value proposition. It has always been on providing safety and security. We’ve got to look at ways to drive that up and allow our residents to become the best versions of themselves. That is especially critical for baby boomers who grew up at a time when we were told we could change the world. Now we have an opportunity, by coming together in community, to create opportunities for people to create idealized versions of themselves during these years and to share that with the world.

Senior housing development James Kruml, @robotoaster
Senior Housing News Reporter Tim Regan, Point Development Company Chief Development Officer Ryan Haller and Garden Spot Communities CEO Steve Lindsey

Ryan, what will Ovation micro-CCRCs look like in the next 5-10 years?

Ryan Haller: One reason we created the Ovation brand is the baby boomer generation — despite what you may have read — is one of the brokest generations. It’s not only because they may have been financially reckless. It’s more because of [the wealth] they lost during the Great Recession. There may be up to 10% of them who can’t live in the communities of their choosing, but want to live like Robin Leach is narrating their lives.

We’re going to see a continuation of the relevancy of the CCRC model. For many boomers, the [high entry fee] model just isn’t in the cards. We believe we can provide this for a fraction of the cost, with no entry fees. One factor in Avamere’s success is we are a full continuum of care organization. It allows us to offer borderline skilled nursing services without the high costs associated with CCRCs.

What are some of the obstacles in developing these forward-thinking CCRC products?

Lindsey: Affordability is a big obstacle: getting bogged down negotiating approvals, zoning and entitlements with municipalities.

More so for us, we’re fighting against the concept of what [a CCRC] was. We have to create a whole new model that takes a fresh approach, that gives people an opportunity to live a new life — not just to retire and worry about health care for the future. How do we create an authentic sense of community?

We’ve realized people can sniff out something that is not authentic in a minute. We have to start thinking like sociologists and community planners. How do we create opportunities for people to bump into each other? The way we make friends as we age is much different than how we make friends in our teens or twenties. We need to recognize and design around that so that people can come in and recognize that there is a true, authentic sense of community.

Haller: We follow Louis Sullivan’s old architectural saying, “form follows function.” We need to understand the function of the next generation. There weren’t many hiccups moving from the greatest generation to the silent generation.

We are facing many headwinds on the West Coast with exclusionary zoning. In addition, land use planning has never been tougher.

With health care delivery becoming more mobile and on-demand, are CCRCs as they’ve been presented really necessary, or are they just a means to a community?

Lindsey: I think they’ll continue to play an important role. But I don’t think it’s the only way. The health care component has been commoditized in recent years, so we can’t build out value proposition off of that.

We use the metaphor of the outhouse when discussing building CCRCs. When they were first developed, they were this revolutionary concept. They’re still available in some parts of the country, they still function the way they’re designed. But it’s never anyone’s first choice.

We have to ask what people are looking for? What are the trends? How are things changing so that we create something that is someone’s first choice, not the outhouse that they will go to when there is no other alternative.

Senior housing development James Kruml, @robotoaster
Garden Spot Communities CEO Steve Lindsey

Haller: CCRCs [in the past] were necessary because someone made them necessary. We, and our consumers, will define what is necessary. There are a lot of markets where CCRCs don’t even exist. That’s why you see the Ovation product in a lot of tertiary markets.

Over time, given the headwinds we’re seeing, the traditional CCRC model is no longer necessary. Companies will figure this out; hopefully we’re one of them. We’ve got 10 years to figure it out. We’re in the beginning stages of redefining what a CCRC needs to be.

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