Demand in the senior housing industry has withstood the pressures of Covid-19, and if current trends are any indication, the U.S. economy is ready to heat up, according to Debra Cafaro, chairman and CEO of Ventas (NYSE: VTR).
“I think we are poised for a breakout to the upside in the economy,” Cafaro said Tuesday during the 25th Annual REIT Symposium, which NYU’s Schack Institute of Real Estate held virtually.
Within the senior living industry, she said she is heartened and encouraged by how operators have performed throughout the pandemic, and by how the wider Covid-19 vaccine rollout has gone.
“In our business … we do see resilience there because of demographics and need-based business,” Cafaro said. “And we’re seeing already a recovery in demand.”
But that doesn’t mean Cafaro believes the senior living industry or the country can rest on their laurels, either. She believes there will likely be another uptick in Covid-19 cases, and is concerned that there are still sizable cohorts in the population that do not want to get vaccinated.
“We are at a critical juncture,” Cafaro said. “We have efficacious vaccines, and we know what works, but we are likely to see another … dose of cases before we get to the end of this.”
For its senior housing operating portfolio (SHOP), the Chicago-based real estate investment trust had a rocky start during the fourth quarter of 2020. By January, new leads and move-ins had rebounded their highest levels since the pandemic started, and that recovery is likely to accelerate once referral sources resume sending residents.
Looking ahead, Cafaro said it will be critical to vaccinate substantially all of the U.S. to resume normal business activity, and that the economy can’t reach its full potential until the country and the wider world has recovered from the pandemic. But, she is optimistic about the road ahead.
“In senior housing, in particular, … the demand has been so resilient, and it has really proven the value proposition that the industry offers to seniors and their families,” Cafaro said. “And that has buoyed me and carried me through this difficult time, and it gives me hope for the future.”
Cafaro’s remarks came on the heels of an update from another large senior housing REIT, Welltower (NYSE: WELL). Like Ventas, Welltower is also reporting signs of recovery in its markets, and the company has seen three consecutive weeks of occupancy gains in its U.S. and U.K. senior housing operating (SHO) portfolios.