Seniors Housing Developers Embrace Intergenerational Living Trends

by Jeff Shaw

As the industry eagerly anticipates the arrival of baby boomers, intergenerational housing models are emerging as an attractive alternative for a group that wants a different type of retirement experience. Developers, operators and owners are tweaking time-tested intergenerational arrangements and trying new approaches. 

Mixing different age groups has benefits for everyone involved, experts say. It’s natural, and the way families lived until we started to move so far apart.

Many elders like being around young children or helping them, since their grandchildren may not live nearby. Adolescents bring energy to a retirement community, with the added benefit of being able to teach seniors how to use their smart phones. Young adults can serve as a labor pool for senior living properties.

College-based or -affiliated life plan communities have been around for decades. But developers are fine-tuning the model at a number of new high-profile college projects now underway. Legacy Pointe at the University of Central Florida, Orlando, is currently under development by the nonprofit CCRC Development Corp. Greystone Communities will manage and market the property. Residents will be able to attend classes and participate in learning programs. 

Other types of developments with an intergenerational spin are being rolled out. There are senior living neighborhoods in master-planned communities, retirement buildings with a pre-school on-site, and projects located in dense walkable locations that naturally put elders in proximity to other age groups. 

Chicago-based Charter Senior Living recently announced a new, $75 million, mixed-use development in Huntsville, Alabama. The project will include a senior living property, co-working space and a hotel.

Many retirement communities offer some type of intergenerational programming. One-off events are the norm. A life plan community in Chicago, for example, recently brought together residents and young students to assemble backpacks with supplies and toys for children at a nearby homeless shelter. 

Some senior living providers offer robust, ongoing intergenerational programs, such as volunteer tutoring opportunities at a nearby school. Mission-driven communities often make outreach to the other age groups a top priority. 

Few seniors housing projects include other age groups living on-site. It’s hard to manage families with kids and seniors at the same time.

An exception is the co-housing model, a community that by design includes residents of all ages who help each other and share responsibility for common facilities. Co-housing was pioneered in Denmark and is somewhat popular in Europe. 

A handful of co-housing developments are scattered throughout the United States, most notably in California, Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Massachusetts. But the idea of communal living has limited appeal. 

How to boost occupancy

A seniors housing project with an intergenerational component can help fill units. It’s a big plus for today’s younger seniors, and the baby boomers coming right behind them. They want to stay involved in the wider community and tend to favor shared experiences over being waited on. College classes are better than fancy luncheons. 

Seniors housing with an intergenerational component can help attract younger residents, says Nancy Henkin, a consultant who has conducted extensive research on the topic. “High-quality intergenerational programs help residents feel like they are contributing.” She adds that the programs also help combat ageism among younger people.

Intergenerational approaches have mixed results. Programming success depends on a commitment of time and resources. Location matters a lot, too. Communities that want to sell an all-age experience must be located near other age groups. Busing kids to a suburban campus represents a difficult logistical challenge. 

Retirement projects on college campuses are a popular solution because they bring together two groups that have traditionally been siloed by age: students and seniors. 

The Lakes at Stillwater in Stillwater, Minnesota, opens this year. It is a project by Intergenerational Living & Health Care Inc., a Minnesota-based nonprofit organization that tries to create intergenerational programming to bring children and seniors together. The plot was strategically chosen for its proximity to Rutherford Elementary School, and the community will host intergenerational programs.

College-based communities provide housing for retired faculty and staff. The communities can also be a big draw for alums. 

A $270 million, 20-story life plan community is currently under construction on the campus of Arizona State University in Tempe. Pacific Retirement Services (PRS), a nonprofit organization based in Medford, Oregon, is developing Mirabella at ASU and will manage the property upon its completion. The building is scheduled to open in 2020. It will include 252 independent living apartments, 11 assisted living units, 20 memory care suites and 21 skilled nursing units. 

Entry fees range from the low $300,000s to more than $1 million. Monthly fees range from about $4,000 to $4,800. The monthly fee for a second person is $1,050. Entry fees are 80 to 85 percent refundable. Early buyers get a bigger refund.

The project is situated on campus land with a 99-year lease. The location is near downtown Tempe in a walkable neighborhood with shops and restaurants nearby, says Paul Riepma, PRS senior vice president of sales and marketing. His office is in Tempe. 

“More and more front-edge baby boomers want a different retirement experience,” says Riepma. “They’re looking for a fully engaged, multicultural and multigenerational urban, university-inspired neighborhood.”

Mirabella will include classrooms and a 300-seat theater. Residents will have an ASU identification card, giving them access to campus facilities and events. 

Intergenerational programs are taking shape. More than 60 depositors have already signed up to be career mentors at the ASU job placement office.

“Apartments are selling quickly,” says Riepma. About 90 percent of the units are already presold, and 191 people are on the waiting list. 

Similar to ASU, residents at The Spires at Berry College in Rome, Georgia, will have access to campus events and offerings. The project opens in the summer of 2020. The life plan community will include 170 independent living units, 36 assisted living units, 36 memory care units and 34 skilled nursing suites. 

Location matters

Although colleges and seniors housing may be a natural fit, it’s a challenge to find a site either on campus or close enough to make the programming work. 

Belmont Village Westwood in Los Angeles is affiliated with UCLA. “It was not easy to find a spot near the campus given how built out the area is,” says Patricia Will, founder and president of Houston-based Belmont Village Senior Living.

The company was able to negotiate a long-term ground lease for the surface parking lot of an old historic church in the neighborhood. The church’s parking lot was relocated in the senior living building’s underground garage. During the two years of construction, Belmont provided bus transportation for the members of the congregation from a remote parking lot. 

Persistence pays off. It took eight years to lock up 40 acres for Broadview Senior Living at Purchase College, a life plan community on the campus of the state school in Harrison, New York. The state legislature had to approve the 76-year land lease for the $300 million project. LCS Development, headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa, is the project developer.

A learning commons for both seniors and students is the centerpiece of a new retirement community, Broadview Senior Living at Purchase College in Harrison, New York.

Purchase College is located on 400 acres in upscale Westchester County. The school has an enrollment of 4,200. It focuses on the liberal and performing arts and is part of the State University of New York (SUNY) system.

HJ Sims, an investment bank in Fairfield, Connecticut, arranged a $15 million bond issue in 2018 to fund start-up costs. Phase I of the project includes 220 independent living units and villas, 18 assisted living and 16 memory care units. Entry fees will range from approximately $800,000 to more than $1 million for a large villa. Twenty percent of the units are set aside for residents earning below 80 percent of the local median income. 

The centerpiece of the intergenerational program is a new learning commons for residents and students. The 12,000-square-foot building will include classrooms, performance space and audio-visual arts studios. The college will handle programming for the learning commons. 

Activities may include cross-learning sessions with seniors mentoring students and students helping residents produce video diaries of their lives. “A real interchange between generations would benefit both sides,” says Elizabeth Robertson, director of college relations for Broadview.

The learning commons will include a café where residents and students can interact informally. “That’s our goal,” says Todd Shaw, director of development services at LCS. His office is in Great Falls, Virginia. 

Another plus: a ready labor pool. The senior living community will hire students to work there. The arrangement helps the students pay their bills while addressing the senior living industry’s labor shortage. 

A number of senior living communities offer intern programs for college students considering a career in the industry. Belmont Village at Albany is on land owned by the University of California, Berkeley. Students from the school of social work are employed at the building. “If they weren’t involved, they would not have thought of a career in seniors housing,” says Belmont’s Will. 

Building a town center

Seattle-based Merrill Gardens has developed its own approach to intergenerational living. The company has opened five of its “town center” projects in the last three years. The infill projects, which are rental communities, feature about 125 units and are located near retail centers, restaurants and other service providers. The senior living projects all border on multifamily projects. 

The elders can enjoy the activity and energy of the neighborhood but still have an apartment with services. “They feel connected to the community by walking out the door,” says Bill Pettit, president of R.D. Merrill Co., owner of Merrill Gardens. “But they also have their own space.”

The town center concept is based on a project celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, Merrill Gardens at the University in Seattle. It is located near the University of Washington but is not affiliated with the school. 

The project includes 22,000 square feet of retail space and 143 independent and assisted living apartments. Pillar Properties, a sister company of Merrill Gardens, developed a multifamily project next to the seniors community. 

An urban courtyard sits between the multifamily and senior living projects. The space acts as a gathering place for events including tailgate parties before football games. “The generations are integrated,” says Pettit. “But it’s more about the environment and less about the programming.” 

Several of the new town center projects include community rooms available to the wider community. The space can accommodate a range of events, from weddings to local group meetings. 

Three of Merrill Gardens’ town center projects are in the Seattle area and the other two are in California. The buildings were 100 percent occupied within 12 months. Two of the buildings were 95 percent occupied within six months. The buildings are not attracting younger residents, most are in their 80s. But they tend to be independent, says Pettit. “The location is drawing them.” 

Program success

The nonprofit group 2Life Communities, based in Brighton, Massachusetts, is introducing a similar village center concept. 2Life’s approach is to develop mixed-use projects in walkable, amenity-rich locations where seniors can age in the community without being isolated. 

An urban courtyard sits between Merrill Gardens at the University in Seattle and a multifamily project, allowing all age groups to interact.

2Life’s most recent project features 62 affordable apartments for seniors in the Coolidge Corner neighborhood of Brookline, along Boston’s public rail system. The project has a scheduled opening in 2020. 

“All of us live in a multicultural, multidimensional world,” says Amy Schectman, president and CEO of 2Life Communities. “We like those connections.”

The Brookline building will include retail space in order to encourage intergenerational interactions. The building is also located across from a grade school, and a synagogue with a pre-school and religious school. Plans include programming with the schools. 

Effective programming is key to the success of intergenerational projects, according to sources.

Intergenerational Living & Health Care Inc. (ILHC) put its mission right in its name. The nonprofit organization aims to bring the generations together. The Goodman Group of Chaska, Minnesota, manages ILHC communities along with other senior living and healthcare communities, residential communities and commercial properties. ILHC has five senior living and health care communities and one learning center, each with an intergenerational component.

ILHC’s latest project is The Lakes at Stillwater in Stillwater, Minnesota. Phase I is opening Spring/Summer 2019 with 139 independent living, assisted living, memory care and care suites. Subsequent phases will include lake homes and 55+ apartments.

Intergenerational programming at ILHC properties varies by location and depends on the residents’ interests, according to Katie Westberg, national director of life enrichment at The Goodman Group. 

For example, The Commons on Marice, Eagan, Minnesota, is adjacent to ILHC’s Intergenerational Learning Center where residents read to kids and help them with projects.

“There are big opportunities to embrace different generations through experiences,” says Westberg.

— Jane Adler

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