Senior living occupancy rates continued to increase in the third quarter of 2023, and the industry is on track to potentially reach pre-pandemic census levels next year.
That’s according to the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care and NIC MAP Vision, which released their latest quarterly occupancy report Thursday.
Average occupancy in the 31 primary markets that NIC MAP Vision tracks increased by 0.8 percentage points to land at 84.4% in the third quarter of 2023 up from 83.6% in the second quarter, according toNIC MAP Vision. Average industry occupancy is still below the 87.1% seen in the first quarter of 2020, but the industry could finally reach that milestone next year due to “record-high rates of demand” and a lower rate of new construction than in previous quarters.
“The recovery continues,” NIC Senior Principal Caroline Clapp told Senior Housing News. “We’re getting a lot of interest from the overall real estate on the fundamentals for senior housing because of where we are in the recovery.”
If the current pace holds steady, Clapp estimates a full recovery could be seen in Q4 2024.
Senior living demand has outpaced the available supply in assisted living and independent living.
Assisted living is recovering at a faster rate than independent living in NIC MAP Primary Markets, with the occupancy rate improving by 0.9 percentage points to 82.6% compared to the 0.7 percentage points increase for independent living, up to 86.1%. And occupancy has fully recovered to pre-pandemic levels for assisted living operators in secondary markets, with average census rates at 84.3%.
“Several consecutive quarters of especially strong demand suggest that the need for the care and housing provided by senior housing is recognized,” Chuck Harry, NIC’s chief operating officer, said in the release. “If demand and supply trends continue at their current pace, senior housing occupancy will recover during 2024.”
Senior living operators in Boston, Baltimore and Tampa saw the highest occupancy rates of 89.8%, 88% and 87%, respectively. On the low end were Houston, Las Vegas and Atlanta, which registered at 79.4%, 79.7% and 81% respectively.
Tougher conditions getting financing have led to a lower rate of new inventory growth than in recent years — in fact, the industry’s year-over-year total of 1.3% represents the lowest rate of new inventory growth since 2012. The amount of senior housing under construction compared to existing inventory is 4.7%, the lowest since 2012 and down 0.2 percentage points compared to Q2 2023.
All told, operators in the 31 NIC MAP Primary Markets alone still must fill more than 109,350 unoccupied units, with about 32,722 more units currently under construction. Clapp said the average timeframe for construction completion is 18 to 36 months due to tighter constraints and labor.
“Given the uncertainty and financing conditions today, constructions and starts have come down a lot, but they’re not zero,” Clapp said.