How Intergenerational Living Is Shaping New Senior Housing Models Post-Pandemic

Intergenerational housing has become a growing trend within senior living in recent years. But there is a distinction between intergenerational and multigenerational housing that developers and operators need to be cognizant of as they incorporate multiple age groups as a component of larger developments.

Additionally, there are lessons from Covid-19 that can be applied to building future intergenerational developments, leaders from intergenerational advocacy group Generations United and senior housing provider Generations said during a recent webinar hosted by Senior Housing News.

The pandemic forced multiple generations of families to live together, to rely on each other for safety and socialization, and younger family members were able to assist their older relatives with accessing services and become better acquainted with technology platforms.


These lessons can be applied to future developments to create true intergenerational developments, said Irv Katz, senior fellow with Generations United.

The Washington, D.C-based nonprofit estimates there are more than 200 intergenerational shared sites across the country, with untapped potential to develop more. In order to do so, however, developers and providers need to make a concerted effort. Generations is one such organization that is doing so; as one route forward, the organization’s executive chairman, Chip Gabriel, has teamed up with private equity firm Formation Capital and other partners to raise a fund to pursue a new model of senior living.

Intergenerational developments can also be used to make housing more affordable for seniors and younger generations, and provide more positive health and wellness outcomes.


“If we thought about our communities in intergenerational ways, we would be developing schools, universities, parks, trails and [communities] in ways that attract and engage people across the age spectrum,” he said.

Separating intergenerational from multigenerational

In order to build more and better intergenerational developments, stakeholders need to understand the differences compared to multigenerational developments.

Katz cited parks as an example. Most parks have facilities, equipment and other amenities that are intended to be used by multiple generations. Intergenerational parks, however, are designed and programmed such that there is interaction among, and connections between, young and old.

The same applies to housing. The dominant trends in residential development today are more multigenerational: mixed-use communities where senior housing or services is a component, but separate from, the larger development; and these projects tend to involve dedicated amenities for different age groups.

True intergenerational sites can involve two or more providers or services joining forces in one setting, Katz said. An example: common spaces for gardening or other social activities, separated by windows so that children can see older people and vice versa.

More important, focusing on intergenerational programming values actual contact between old and young. This reduces age segregation; increases social connections, recreational and volunteer efforts; improves community infrastructure; leads to better individual health and wellbeing; and decreases social isolation and loneliness, Katz said.

One example of a true intergenerational community is Bridge Meadows, a development in Portland, Oregon offering affordable apartments to seniors, foster youth and their families. Bridge Meadows’ common areas, such as its mail room, are designed to initiate and encourage interactions between residents. The development also has planned activities, shared meals and support services to facilitate connection and mutual support.

Pemberton Park for Grandfamilies in Kansas City, Missouri, is designed specifically for grandparents raising their grandchildren. Apartments have multiple bedrooms. Programming ranges from after school and free time activities for youth, to continuing education courses for seniors.

“It’s a low-key trend that these developments are happening,” Katz said.

Untapped development potential

Intergenerational living is the foundation for Clackamas, Oregon-based Generations’ future growth, Executive Chairman Chip Gabriel said.

Generations operates 11 communities totaling 3,500 units in five states. Of that total, 1,200 units are in intergenerational settings that he sees as the future of senior housing. One avenue to build scale will be through partnerships with multifamily builders or developers of master-planned communities, as a way to pencil in developments in the face of rising construction costs.

Some partnerships may also be unusual, on paper. One development, Carmichael Commons in Carmichael, California, is a partnership between Generations and a K-12 school. Gabriel noted that there will be various opportunities for residents, students and faculty to interact — in the community and at the school.

He views projects such as Carmichael Commons as a way for Generations to help seniors write the final chapters of their lives, on their terms.

“Seniors do not want to be with just seniors. They want to be a part of [a greater] community,” he said.

Health care payment trends may also play a role in supporting new senior living models. For example, Gabriel anticipates that a development like Carmichael Commons could partner with Medicare Advantage plans, providing amenities and services for older adults who are not residing there.

“If I could have people from the general public come to … Carmichael Commons to receive their health care but also receive education, receive the health club, go to the school performances that are going on in the auditorium, all those lifestyles and activities which make people healthier and better, that becomes very attractive to Medicare Advantage plans,” he said.

And intergenerational living could be propelled by stronger tailwinds due to the pandemic, as well. Covid-19 highlighted the need for more purpose-built intergenerational housing, and accelerated the reasons why multigenerational households formed, Generations United Executive Director Donna Butts said.

The group estimates the percentage of multigenerational households across the U.S. increased from 7% in 2010 to 26% in 2020. A survey conducted by Generations United found that six of 10 households became multigenerational last year, either because of the pandemic or for financial reasons. Moreover, 98% of families polled indicated they learned how to live together successfully, and plan on staying together in a post-pandemic environment.

These families span income and socio-economic demographics, but the majority reported household incomes in excess of $100,000 annually and merged because of elder care needs, child care or children’s education.

“We can put that under one roof,” she said.

Companies featured in this article: