The most prominent challenge is the image problem senior and retirement communities still suffer from, says Pospisil.

SANTA ROSA, CA-Today, there are 40 million people over the age of 65; the first wave of America’s 77 million baby boomers started to enter their senior years in 2011; and the senior population is expected to nearly double to 71 million by 2030. Those facts come from Bob Pospisil, construction director and project manager for Oakmont Senior Living, an award-winning developer of resort-style retirement communities based in Santa Rosa, CA. It is because of facts such as those that we chatted with Pospisil on senior housing today, what we can expect for this year, and what challenges are still facing the senior housing sector. What is happening in senior housing today? What can we expect for this year?

Bob Pospisil: With the senior population growing quickly and occupancy rates for senior housing hovering around 89%, there is high demand for new inventory. This will be the fourth consecutive year the senior market has experienced steady gains, and investors and developers are following in tow. Across the US there are now dozens of independent living, assisted living and nursing projects under construction, or recently completed. Last year, Oakmont Senior Living completed and opened three resort-style retirement communities in Brea, Roseville and Santa Rosa, CA. This year, we have set another aggressive construction schedule to complete three more communities in the cities of Upland, Folsom and Carmichael, CA. The industry is excited to be ramping up to meet the ever-growing need. How about on the investment side of things?

Pospisil: On the investment side, the senior housing market has also seen a flurry of public REITs entering the ranks. Dozens of public REITs have already expanded their senior living portfolios, and this year we expect to see more private REITs jump on the bandwagon. What challenges are still facing the senior housing sector? Are retirement communities highly sought after?

Pospisil: The most prominent challenge is the image problem senior and retirement communities still suffer from. Many people still think retirement communities are the institutional, dreary nursing homes they imagine of the past–rather than the vibrant, active communities of today. Working collectively to rebrand the “retirement community,” developers have shifted toward focusing on lifestyle and amenity offerings that suite various interests. Today, senior communities are more like carefree vacation cruise liners that offer active living and the comforts of home people want. Swimming pools, fitness centers, walk/biking trails, libraries and craft rooms are just a fraction of what is offered today. Retirement communities are now places where people are able to age gracefully.
The other challenge is helping family members understand that retirement communities are truly wonderful places for their loved ones to spend their later years. Many people feel guilty for not being able to care for loved ones themselves, but in actuality, seniors who live with relatives often end up feeling isolated, depressed and unsatisfied. In most cases, these communities give them the best chance at a rich and full retirement among peers with shared interests by offering more social interaction, daily activities, and the care assistance they may need. After visiting a few top-notch properties, families usually realize that their loved ones will enjoy life to the fullest, while being well cared for. What are seniors and their families looking for in a retirement community?

Pospisil: The first thing seniors look for is a way of life that suites their interests. They want a vibrant community that allows them to be independent for as long as possible while remaining close to family. Most are drawn to communities with a wide range of unique amenities that can include wine cellars and bars, putting greens, movie theaters, gourmet cuisine, gardens, pet parks, valet and concierge services. There has also been a push toward providing business centers, computer labs and Wi-Fi for the tech-savvy senior.
Seniors also look for activity-rich communities that keep them active and socially engaged. That can include fitness classes, craft workshops, excursions to museums and aquariums, book clubs and hair salon and spa services. What types of retirement communities are popular? Are there any outside factors influencing what product types are being developed?

Pospisil: While amenities and lifestyle are important, seniors are also look for quality long-term care options that allow them to age in place. Continuing care retirement communities or CCRCs, have become popular because they offer independent living and as-needed care services, giving people peace of mind that help is not too far away if the time comes. It’s the best of both worlds—an amenity and activity-rich lifestyle with the infrastructure and skilled care staff to provide services such as medication reminders, blood pressure checks, dietary guidance and temporary in-home care when recuperating from an illness or injury.

There has also been an increase in specialized communities and programs that address health conditions rising among seniors. Memory care communities that treat various stages of dementia, from early memory loss to Alzheimer’s, are emerging. Figures show that cases of Alzheimer’s will jump from 5 million today to 7 million in 10 years’ time. Due to the nature of dementia, special therapeutic programs and safety measures are necessary. These communities offer the healthy, intimate and reinforcing environments dementia patients need to maintain quality of life.

On the service side, diabetic wellness and concierge medicine programs are becoming a big hit. Diabetics wellness programs focus on helping residents monitor and manage their glucose levels. They offer diabetic-friendly cuisine, daily glucometer readings and insulin administration. Concierge medicine programs are emerging from partnerships with outside institutions. These programs offer outside physicians the space and tools needed to provide personal care to residents onsite. What other trends are leading the industry? What types of things are starting to emerge? 

Pospisil: The development of niche communities that are geared toward specific lifestyles or shared interests has grown in popularity. A handful of communities for hippies, artists, skiers, mail carriers and specific ethnic groups have emerged around the country. Most notable is the emerging interest in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. Late last year, Oakmont Senior Living opened Fountaingrove Lodge, the first full-service continuing care retirement community geared toward LGBT and straight individuals. Located in Santa Rosa, the 10-acre community offers luxury living and continuing care options to serve the unique needs of the LGBT community. This has paved the way for several LGBT retirement communities now under construction or being talked about across the nation. Moving forward, we anticipate we will see an increase in builders developing more specialized communities to meet the needs of a growing and diverse senior population.