Why Multifamily, Senior Housing Hybrids Could Shape the Future of Intergenerational Living

The lines between multifamily apartments and senior living are continuing to blur, as demonstrated by two stories that ran on Senior Housing News in the last week:

  • The Canyons is a new community in Portland, Oregon, that is not age-restricted but is targeting a resident population that is 70% older adults and 30% younger renters
  • Garden Spot Communities CEO Steve Lindsey is looking beyond age-restricted housing to create a model that will appeal to the next generation of older adults

Intergenerational living has been a rising trend for several years and is the goal for The Canyons and for Garden Spot. I believe that shifting consumer preferences and economic considerations support the further acceleration of intergenerational living and could lead to more communities like The Canyons, with key factors including:

  • Multifamily and senior living communities are increasingly similar in their design and operations
  • High home prices are fueling the rise of creative rental options such as co-living and flexible living
  • Shifting demographics open opportunities for new intergenerational models

And with these factors in play, I think it’s possible that the current active adult rental product might eventually seem like a stepping-stone to the intergenerational housing model of the future.


Multifamily, senior living playbooks merge

The Canyons stands out for how intentionally the developers — Kaiser Group, backed by Tokyo-based real estate company Hoosier Holdings — are trying to create an intergenerational community.

Located in Portland’s Boise-Eliot neighborhood, The Canyons incorporates universal design elements and amenities such as a concierge service in an effort to create a living environment that is appealing to all ages but tailored specifically to older adults.

“A 30-year-old would tour the building and not know our intent is to have it as an active adult [community],” Ben Kaiser, owner of Kaiser Group and architecture firm Path, told my colleague Tim Regan.


Judging by The Canyons website, I believe that a 30-year-old would find the building appealing. But, this alone does not make The Canyons all that unique, given that “amenity wars” in the multifamily space have led to apartment buildings with many of the same bells-and-whistles that high-end senior living communities now boast.

“As multifamily housing becomes a longer-term choice for people of all ages and incomes, innovative, stand-out amenities are rising as a key differentiator — and a key component to the success of individual assets,” a 2019 report from CBRE and Streetsense stated.

The amenity war that started in new and luxury communities has trickled down into older and more affordable communities, which have had to modernize their offerings, the report noted.

Among the multifamily amenities cited in that report: integrated fitness centers; arts and learning spaces; concierge services that manage resident events and promote social connection; co-working areas; and even food and dining spaces such as grab-and-go kiosks and delivery partnerships with grocery stores and restaurants.

In particular, younger renters appear to be hungry for social connection. Feelings of isolation are common among 3 in 10 U.S. adults, and are even more prevalent among younger adults than older adults, according to a 2018 survey from AARP. That same year, data from the National Multifamily Housing Council also suggested that renters are valuing community connections highly.

“Perhaps thanks to the rise of tech amenities in high-end apartments, the desire for community as an amenity has grown. It’s not just about offering community gardens or rooftops; it’s about planning events and finding ways to link residents,” Curbed reported.

Senior living developers and providers might balk at the idea of expanding outside of age-restricted housing, but especially if they’re in the active adult or independent living sectors, these organizations might increasingly face competition from multifamily buildings with similar offerings.

On the other hand, the opportunity seems to be emerging for more senior living organizations to play in this hybrid multifamily space that The Canyons is exploring and that Garden Spot has signaled interest in. Senior living companies might even have advantages in this space, given that they are accustomed to building highly amenitized buildings, and I believe that best-in-class operators also have invested meaningfully into systems and processes for building resident connections.

Economic stress and creative solutions

In devising The Canyons model about three years ago, Kaiser surveyed assisted living and active adult residents to gain greater insight into their preferences.

“The majority of the people we polled — and we polled quite a few — said they kind of liked the idea of a mixed building,” Kaiser told SHN. “We have some elderly folks using canes to get around, and then we have a 28 year old coming and going … and I like that mix.”

For older adults, the attractiveness of intergenerational living seems clear. Many senior living residents say they love their building amenities but wish they weren’t surrounded by other older people all the time, one senior living executive told me at the recent American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA) meeting.

For younger adults, the appeal of living in an intergenerational community may seem less apparent. But their values and the economic pressures they face could leave them open to new possibilities.

In terms of what the younger generation values, there is the fact that millennials are less interested in home ownership and more interested in spending their money on a desirable experience or event, according to much-cited Harris Poll findings.

So, there could be an appetite among this generation for renting units in buildings that offer unique intergenerational experiences. They might even be willing to pay a slight premium for such experiences; rates at The Canyons start around $2,500 a month, which is much less than standard independent living rates but more expensive than average multifamily rates.

But it’s conceivable that The Canyons could narrow that gap as average multifamily rents rise. Multifamily asking rents going up an average of 6.3% year-over-year in June, according to Yardi Matrix data. That’s due in part to increased demand for rentals as home prices are reaching record heights around the country; from the start of the year through May, the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller index of home prices rose a record 16.6%.

With this as the backdrop, younger adults are considering creative options, including intergenerational co-living. Odd Couples Housing, an online matching service that connects younger renters with older adults who have rooms to let, recently expanded to Denver after getting a start in St. Louis.

Flexible living is another rising trend. Startups like Mark Zuckerberg-backed Sentral are using technology platforms to let tenants rent units in its network for one-night stays or years-long stints.

The Canyons is working with a company called Barsala to rent 22 fully-furnished units for short-term stays. This was intended as a stop-gap measure during Covid-19, but Kaiser believes the partnership is working out well and helps keep the building vibrant.

It seems to me that if living full-time with older adults is a hard sell for some younger renters, they might enjoy doing so for more limited periods of time, as they pursue a flexible lifestyle that takes them from city to city.

The Canyons has not been an immediate home run; in addition to the 22 Barsala units, only 17 units have been leased so far, eight months after the community opened. However, the pandemic has complicated lease-up, and Kaiser still has high hopes of working out the “kinks” and expanding throughout the Pacific Northwest and even to Japan.

Other innovative models

Even if The Canyons model ultimately is not successful, I think the community could be an early effort that paves the way for other hybrid multifamily/senior housing plays. And the goal to reach Japanese markets is particularly interesting, as it suggests the appeal of intergenerational living across different cultures.

In this regard, The Canyons calls to my mind another company: Priya Living.

Priya’s Founder and CEO, Arun Paul, set out to create a place that would be welcoming to all people but celebrate Indian culture, with an appealing environment for older adults like his own parents. The company’s first building — located in Santa Clara, California — was not age-restricted and ended up with an intergenerational resident base.

“What we found happening in Santa Clara was young couples would come there, also immigrants, and they would take a look and hear about it, and they’d show up, and they’d say, ‘Can we live here? We really like the vibe. We like being around elders. We think that’s really cool. It feels like home. It reminds us of our parents, aunties and uncles,” Paul said in an interview for SHN’s Changemakers series.

United States Census data from 2020 indicates that nearly 4 in 10 Americans identify with a racial or ethnic group other than white, with the Latino and Hispanic population increasing by 18.5% and Asian American population increasing by about 6%.

The senior housing industry has not been blind to these trends. There have been attempts to create affinity or niche communities to serve particular demographic groups. One impediment has been a cultural reluctance among some of these populations to break up multigenerational households. As of 2016, about 30% of Asian Americans, 27% of Hispanic people and 26% of Black people in the United States resided in a multigenerational household, Pew Research indicated.

It seems to me that one possible route forward lies in creating intergenerational communities that appeal to all ages, enabling family members of all ages to live together or close to each other.

Creating this type of property, or going outside of age-restricted housing in general, might seem too far beyond the typical model for many senior living companies to take on — but, the industry already may be trending in this direction.

Consider that many senior living providers already have moved away from using the word “senior” in their brand names; this is a marketing move, of course, but I think it reflects a widespread consumer discomfort with age-restricted housing that the industry must accept and address.

Companies that do not reckon with this trend could be playing also-ran to organizations such as Kaiser and Garden Spot, which are already trying to devise a product that is not just more appealing to older adults, but one that appeals to and serves all ages.

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