Senior Housing Occupancy Rate Inches Closer to Pre-Pandemic Levels

The average senior living occupancy rate is moving ever closer to pre-pandemic levels, with increases in the first quarter of the year driven largely by low construction starts and high demand.

Senior living occupancy rates increased by half a percentage point in the top 31 metro markets tracked by NIC MAP Vision, landing at 85.6% in the first quarter of 2024. The latest total represents the 11th consecutive quarter of occupancy gains, according to the latest NIC MAP Vision occupancy update, released Thursday.

Of the NIC MAP primary markets, Boston, Baltimore and Minneapolis had the highest occupancy rates at 91%, 88.5% and 88.2% respectively. Houston, Las Vegas and Atlanta had the lowest at 80.2%, 81.6% and 82.1% respectively. 


The current average occupancy rate is just 1.5% behind the pre-pandemic high at 87.1% seen in the first quarter of 2020. Average industry census is now 7.8% higher than it was during the industry’s low-occupancy trough of 77.8% in the second quarter of 2021.

Net absorption registered at 5,000 units across primary markets in the first quarter, representing a 40% increase compared to the first quarter of 2023.

Among the factors leading to the occupancy increase is a relative lack of new construction starts, which NIC MAP Vision reports is sitting at 1.37% of total inventory. That percentage is the lowest seen since the first quarter of 2010, according to NIC MAP Vision data.


The latest results still put the industry on track to regain pre-pandemic average occupancy some time this year, according to Lisa McCracken, NIC’s head of research & analytics.

“We are going to see continued gains in occupancy each quarter this year,” McCracken told Senior Housing News. “We are seeing great momentum in demand at a time when we are also having a reduced number of new communities come on the market.”

Assisted living saw a 0.6% occupancy rate increase to 84%, slightly higher than the 0.3% increase seen in independent living, which has increased to 87.1%.

Assisted living average occupancy is now 0.4% from its pre-pandemic totals, and independent living average occupancy is 2.5% below its pre-pandemic totals.

The capital markets for construction still remain challenging, which has led to fewer starts. Looking ahead it “appears likely that the Federal reserve is going to cut interest rates in 2024,” McCracken noted – but it will take multiple rate reductions to open the valve of capital to flow back into new construction.

“We will see what activity looks like toward the end of this year, but I think it is more likely in 2025 that we will start to see that pick back up,” she said.

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