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Senior Housing Developments:  Success is in the Details

Senior Housing Developments: Success is in the Details

Seniors are living longer and leading more active lifestyles thanks to advances in healthcare and technology. This shift, along with other demographic shifts like a decline in birth rates, is leading to higher percentages of senior populations across the country. As a result, the housing market is seeing continuous growth and steady demand for senior housing.

In regions with larger and faster growing senior populations, such as Florida and Texas, the senior housing market is especially booming. Texas, for example, already has the third largest in the United States and is continuing to grow at a faster rate than the rest of the country, driving steady demand across all segments of the market—from high-end luxury communities to assisted living and specialized care facilities.

Real estate developers looking to break into or expand in the market should carefully consider the unique needs, wants, and lifestyles of each segment to find the right balance when selecting and designing any new development.

Senior Housing Market Segments

The senior housing market is segmented by lifestyle and level of care required. Three primary housing types address the needs presented by the different segments and can be stand-alone facilities or, more commonly, combined in a multi-facility campus:

  • Independent living housing options are often condominiums or townhomes and can include a range of nearby or on-site amenities that focus on hospitality and lifestyle services for healthy, active seniors.
  • Assisted living housing options range from full to studio units with on-site staff that provide support with daily activities for seniors who are not fully independent.
  • Memory and nursing care housing options are usually studio or shared units with round-the-clock licensed medical staff for seniors who need special health and/or behavioral care.

Planning and Design Considerations

Senior housing properties, while they still fall under the residential umbrella, differ in many ways from other types of residential properties and require special considerations that other residential developments may not. Nuances in codes, fees, and local governance can make a significant difference in the budget and smooth execution of a project. For example:

  • Because senior housing sites differ in building types and classifications, zoning variances and amendments are often necessary when developing these multi-facility properties. As plans change, such as the number of units per housing type, zone classifications may need to be reevaluated and reapproved. And when public spaces are included in the site plans, zoning can become even more of a challenge.
  • Local governments often assess impact fees for the costs they anticipate incurring from the impact on resources such as water and wastewater, roadways and parks. Senior housing properties and residents typically have lower consumption than multi-family properties. This means that impact fees may be lowered or waived if properly conveyed.
  • Traffic generated by senior housing properties is often less than what multi-family developments generate and is usually at off-peak hours. Ensuring the governing bodies and surrounding neighborhoods understand the minimal traffic impact helps get the buy-in and approval needed from the community and city council in order to proceed with development.
  • The number of off-street parking spaces needed in senior housing developments is substantially lower than what is needed for multi-family housing, but the zoning requirements are the same. Reducing the number of required spaces can be beneficial when it comes to the overall site layout and design by allocating more land to site amenities and greenspace. However, this does require getting a zoning amendment or parking variance through the local municipality.

The demographics of the typical residents for each property type, including income, disabilities, and location, should also be top of mind for any new senior housing project. From identifying and selecting potential sites to planning and designing the property, the demographics of the future residents play an important role throughout the entire project. Consider these design elements when starting a new senior housing project:

  • Site Grading: Keep a site as flat as possible and limit the need for stairs and/or use ramps instead. This is not only beneficial for aging residents, but it is often necessary for those with limited mobility.
  • ADA Parking: Seniors are more likely to have disabilities or injuries warranting the need for ADA parking. This means senior housing facilities and campuses will typically require more ADA spaces than standard parking structures.
  • Roadways and Traffic Calming Measures: There are a number of factors commonly experienced by Seniors that may impact their driving and mobility including vision decline, slowed reaction time, and attention difficulty. Roadways and intersections within senior communities should accommodate older adult drivers and pedestrians by incorporating traffic calming measures in their roadway designs, such as s-curves and additional stop signs.
  • Storm Drainage: Seniors can become increasingly prone to injury as they age, and falls pose one of the biggest risks. Precautionary designs including additional storm drains and buried gutters and downspouts help reduce the risk of falls from wet sidewalks and pavement.

At every stage of a project, from site selection to design and construction, being mindful of the unique needs of senior housing communities will help keep the project on track for success and in the end, will help better serve the members of the community. B&N has decades of experience supporting the development of such communities, including the Watermere at Southlake luxury gated community in Texas.

Joseph Reue, PE, District Director

Joseph Reue, PE 
District Director