Senior Housing Occupancy Inches Up, Assisted Living Turns a Corner

Average senior housing occupancy inched forward in Q4 2019 to 88.1%, up 10 basis points from the previous quarter’s 88% rate, according to new data from the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC). 

But a deeper dive into the data paints a richer picture, including a possible inflection point for assisted living, and varied dynamics across different metro areas.

Courtesy of the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care

Occupancy across the 31 major markets in which NIC tracks continued to vary widely. San Jose (95.7%) and New York (91.3%) experienced the highest occupancy rates, while Atlanta (82.7%) and Houston (82.5%) again brought up the rear. Houston’s occupancy rate, however, increased 1.4% sequentially and has seen two straight quarters of sequential growth.

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Houston’s senior housing construction is gradually decreasing, NIC Chief Economist Beth Burnham Mace told Senior Housing News. Houston currently has 2,381 units under construction, and construction as a percentage of inventory totaled 11.8%

Las Vegas experienced the largest occupancy increase from a year ago, rising from 80.3% to 84.1%. Cincinnati saw the largest year-over-year decrease, falling from 89.7% to 86.4%.

Moving into 2020, one market NIC is keeping an eye on is Washington, D.C., where there are 20 developments under construction, placing pressure on occupancy. The nation’s capital reported an occupancy rate of 86.8% in the fourth quarter, near record lows for the market and nearly five percentage points below the most recent high of 91.7% in Q3 2017.

For the year, net senior housing absorption totaled 15,643 units, the most units demanded on a full-year, net basis since NIC began reporting occupancy data in 2006. Inventory growth decreased from 21,479 units in 2018 to 16,750 units in 2019, but was still stronger than net demand

Occupancy performance between majority independent living communities and majority assisted living communities also varied. The occupancy rate among independent living communities fell 20 basis points from Q3 to Q4, to 90%. Assisted living occupancy, meanwhile, increased 30 basis points in the quarter to 85.7%. This also marks a 60 basis point increase from the recent record low of 85.1% in the second quarter of 2019.

Courtesy of the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care

Net absorption for assisted living for all of 2019 was the strongest total since NIC began reporting data, Mace told SHN.

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“Barring any unexpected shock to the economies and assuming broader economic conditions hold, demand [for assisted living] will continue to be relatively strong. Also, the supply pipeline is slowing, measured by starts and units under construction. This should support improved occupancy rates,” she said.

One factor that could lead to a reversal in assisted living occupancy, however, is flu season. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control, flu cases are already higher in winter 2019-2020 than two winters ago. This always has a negative impact on occupancy, Mace said.

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