EFA 2013: Consumers drive trends in aging-friendly housing market

The good news for everyone interested in the senior housing market, be they investors, developers, builders, architects, interior designers, or operators, is that the market is getting hot. But beware, experts advise: Professionals need to know and understand exactly what they’re doing before entering the market.

Designing and building living spaces for an aging population is exactly like designing and building for the population at large with one major difference: There is a far higher percentage of people in the group with vision, hearing, balance and other infirmities that accompany normal aging. And not only is there an existing  concentration of disabilities, prospective residents expect to have declining health in the future.

This is not a one-size-fits-all marketplace. Like other markets, this one is composed of individuals with a multitude of likes and dislikes. And although disabilities are a foremost consideration, not everyone is disabled in the same way or to the same extent. In fact, some may be in excellent health…for the time being.

But that’s not the point. People looking for senior housing accept that they have reached a life stage in which the likelihood of physical—and sometimes mental—failures rise. Some already experience diminished health. Others simply await the inevitable.

Opportunities for architects and designers in the aging environment are many, Lorraine G. Hiatt, PhD, Environmental Gerontologist, Planning, Research and Design Consultation (New York), told an audience at Environments for Aging in New Orleans.

The current trend is away from large campuses. People want to have their personal lifestyle. This may result in people who stay in their existing homes or they may move to some other type of independent living. In fact, according to Ron Blitch, FAIA, FACHA, president of Blitch Knevel Architects (New Orleans), 86 percent of people are currently aging in their homes and communities, aka, naturally occurring retirement communities (NORCS). Unfortunately, not all houses are aging-friendly.

“There are probably many opportunities in existing housing stock,” Hiatt adds, but renovations may be necessary. Other independent living options might include a senior-friendly development in smaller houses and smaller pieces of land; modular-type buildings that can be fairly easily altered for size or price point; a “pocket” neighborhood of 20 or fewer homes in cul-de-sac locations with discrete parking; or a planned urban community with integrated support services.

Continuing care retirement communities (CCRC) continue to remain popular, but the unmet need is in affordable housing. For every space a resident leaves, there are 10 people waiting to fill the space. By 2020, 733,000 additional affordable senior housing units will be needed.

Assisted living facilities are growing in certain local markets, but lag well behind independent living options. Demand varies, Hiatt warned, advising designers to pay attention to current preferences. Right now space-saving amenities, such as creative storage, and usable kitchens are important.

There are major opportunities are in renovations, she said. “There are more than 16,000 existing nursing homes poised for renovation focused on care by design.” Understanding staffing needs and workflows will be invaluable in renovating these sites.

To keep developments fresh, plan for renovation. “About every seven years, we see changes in trends in housing stock,” recommends Hiatt. Just accept that what is planned today will need revision in about seven years.

The opportunities, like the options, are many. Rewards will go to the most innovative and creative professionals. And as the aging populations in other countries is growing at a faster rate than that in the U.S., there are additional opportunities in the global marketplace.

Loved EFA 2013? Or, missed it and wish you hadn’t? Join us for EFA 2014 May 3-6, 2014 in Anaheim! Details to come on www.environmentsforaging.com!

Topics: Articles , Executive Leadership , Housing