More (pricey) senior housing units in the (expensive) city

Several developers are constructing luxury senior housing in Manhattan and trying to tap a new market:

Senior housing has traditionally been suburban-focused because land is so much cheaper outside cities, and developers hadn’t seen a big enough market to justify paying more, and charging more, for urban locations near transportation and nightlife, Knott said. The aging members of the massive baby-boom generation helped change their minds. Now, he said, many living in cities have the means to pay a premium to remain in familiar environments.

And many will need special care. In New York state alone, about 460,000 residents aged 65 and older are expected to be living with Alzheimer’s-related dementia in 2025, some 18 percent more than there are today, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

To serve the wealthiest of them, senior-housing developers are taking cues from their tony-apartment building counterparts and putting extra emphasis on finishes and flourishes, to make their facilities look like the places residents left behind…

It is, of course, a rather small group of any age or mental ability that can handle the monthly rents these kinds of places will command. They’ll start at $12,000 at the complex that Maplewood Senior Living and Omega Healthcare Investors Inc. are putting up on Second Avenue and 93rd Street. Some will top more than $20,000 at the building Welltower Inc. and Hines are about to break ground for on the corner of 56th Street and Lexington Avenue.

The top 10% ages as well.

If this catches on, will it make it even harder to construct senior housing for average Americans (those who lived as adults around the median household income)?

I had a somewhat radical thought: many community leaders suggest that their residents should be able to age in their community, if they so desire. Would it be possible to set aside plots of land to be used for senior housing? The community would not necessarily have to designate what kind of housing is placed there but setting aside or zoning certain land might take away some of the market-rate pressure for land. Communities and developers regularly do this for other important uses such as parks or schools. Why not get out ahead of the aging population and make a tangible contribution to allowing senior residents to stay?

Seniors don’t want McMansions; they want ranchers and ADA friendly townhouses

A Maryland real estate agent looks at recent figures about the number of aging Americans and what is being built and asks if there is enough of certain kinds of housing:

After I read these facts I thought to myself, why aren’t more builders building what the greatest generation wants – the rancher home or townhouse that is “senior ADA friendly and energy efficient” ?

This is an interesting set of options:

1. The rancher. The legacy of this home dates back to the early to mid-1900s when Americans sought easier to build homes amidst housing shortages and quick-growing suburbs as well as relatively clean and straightforward design. The advantage for older residents is a lack of stairs and all of the house on one level. Of course, there are ways to make ranches more unique – features like vaulted ceilings or wings with master suites or basements – but they are relatively simple homes.

2. Townhouses provide several advantages including newer construction and homeowner’s associations which take care of exterior maintenance as well as yard work. However, townhouses are not necessarily cheap (particularly if they are all ADA friendly and energy efficient) monthly homeowner’s fees might make it less of an option for lots of people.

The aging population will present a unique challenge to the housing industry: who will purchase all of the homes owned by aging Americans and what will the housing options be for their later years?

Property values, city finances, and downtown development: controversy over approved senior housing in downtown Wheaton

New development projects in already-developed suburban areas can attract controversy. Here is an example from downtown Wheaton, Illinois: the city council just approved a senior housing project but some of the neighbors are not happy with the change to the site and there are some questions about funding and whether the city will be left with a bill.

The council voted 4-3 this week to allow construction of a 167-unit facility on a site once slated for luxury condominiums as part of the Courthouse Square complex at the corner of Naperville Road and Willow Avenue…

The approval came after nine planning and zoning board meetings totaling more than 24 hours with testimony from experts, opponents and supporters. In a nearly unanimous vote in August, that board recommended the council deny the zoning plans.

The original proposal for the complex, supported by the council in 2004, called for a mix of townhouses and condos. But developers cited the housing market crash when they pulled the plug on what were supposed to be the second and third midrise buildings. Northfield-based Focus Development Inc. and West Chicago-based Airhart Construction Corp. partnered on the project.

The saga continued when developers asked to amend the plan to allow senior housing, angering some Courthouse Square residents who argued they were promised a strictly residential community when they bought their units.

I’m not sure how this will all play out in court and whether the current residents have a case against the developers. However, here are a few thoughts about this:

1. Senior citizen housing would be helpful in Wheaton. As a more mature community that is relatively wealthy, there are relatively less places in the community for seniors to live in affordable housing. Indeed, when communities like Wheaton do talk about affordable, they tend to be talking about seniors and young people who would like to be in the community but don’t have the resources due to their stage in life to remain.

2. Wheaton has been on a longer program of introducing more housing into the downtown, starting with the condominiums built in the early 1990s across the street from the downtown train station. While higher-end housing might bring in more revenue and people who have more spending power to spread around the downtown, having some development in this space rather than none might be preferable.

3. Like in many suburban debates about development, it sounds like this is partly (mainly?) about property values. The existing residents don’t want their higher-end units to suffer because senior-citizen housing is built nearby instead of other high end units. This could be one of those situations where it would help to take a bigger view: Wheaton would like to offer more affordable housing for seniors and this land is available so perhaps property values can’t or shouldn’t be the overriding concern here.

4. More than ever because of the economic crisis, revenues matter in these situations. Some are concerned that the city, and therefore, taxpayers, might be on the hook if the development doesn’t work out in a certain way. This would be a strike against downtown redevelopment plans; the goal is to generate new revenues, property and sales taxes, not saddle the municipality with new costs.

Aging suburbs might change suburban priorities

The demographic shift in America due to the aging of the Baby Boomers could also affect American suburbs:

Although the entire United States is graying, the 2010 Census showed how much faster the suburbs are growing older when compared with the cities. Thanks largely to the baby-boom generation, four in 10 suburban residents are 45 or older, up from 34 percent just a decade ago. Thirty-five percent of city residents are in that age group, an increase from 31 percent in the last census…

“When people think of suburban voters, it’s going to be different than it was years ago,” Frey said. “They used to be people worried about schools and kids. Now they’re more concerned about their own well-being.”

The nation’s baby boomers — 76 million people born between 1946 and 1964 — were the first generation to grow up in suburbia, and the suburbs is where many chose to rear their own children. Now, as the oldest boomers turn 65, demographers and local planners predict that most of them will not move to retirement areas such as Florida and Arizona. They will stay put…

Local governments are starting to grapple with the implications.

The article then goes on to detail the changes some suburbs have made, primarily in the areas of public safety and civic services. Frankly, I was expecting some bigger changes.

Here are a few predictions about how this might have play out. Some of this has already started.

1. Aging suburbanites will be less likely to favor new development that bring in a lot of children in the community. This comes up primarily as a property tax issue in many communities. With many seniors on more fixed incomes, how can they adjust to rising taxes? And if they are long past supporting school-age children, why should they have to pay more money to schools? While one could argue that more money leading to better schools helps everyone in the form of higher property values, this is still a high price to pay.

This could lead to a shift in many communities away from new homes or multi-family units to a more diversified tax base (more industrial and commercial properties) and developments friendly to seniors. A community like Naperville pursued some of these goals in the 1990s and 2000s: seeing the dwindling supply of open land, Naperville pursued some senior-living communities and more commercial and industrial uses to reduce the strain on the schools and help provide some housing that would enable seniors to stay in the community.

2. They will aim to keep their suburbs similar to way they were when they moved in. As the first generation who primarily grew up in suburbs, they will want to preserve their idyllic nature. How this works itself out in each community may differ but this could be an era of hyper-NIMBYism or at least hyper-vigilance to make sure such uses benefit from the older citizens.


Growing numbers of senior citizens on Facebook, SNS

Facebook is growing all over the world but especially among American senior citizens:

Edelman is one of many senior citizens using social networking at rapidly increasing rates, according to a 2010 study by the Pew Research Center. Social networking use among Internet users ages 50 and older has nearly doubled — from 22 percent to 42 percent between 2009 and 2010, according to the study. For Internet users older than 74, that number has quadrupled, from 4 percent to 16 percent.

Indeed, women over 55 are the fastest-growing demographic on Facebook, according to, a website that tracks and analyzes user data…

According to iStrategyLabs, a Washington, D.C., social media marketing firm that tracks user data, about 10.6 percent of Facebook users are over the age of 55, a 59 percent increase from 2010…

While Twitter and Facebook users who send out status updates may tend to skew younger, with most members under 40, the average age of a LinkedIn user is 45, said Krista Canfield, a spokeswoman for the business-oriented social networking site. One trend Canfield said she sees among older LinkedIn users is a desire to retain connections with former co-workers.

Considering Facebook is just six years old and started among college students, these numbers are remarkable.

It strikes me that today’s older generations (and future older generations) will need to be more tech-savvy than previous older generations. This could have some benefits (staying connected) and some downsides (see this recent research on problems with multitasking). Just as young adulthood (“emerging adults”) is being transformed before our eyes, what it means to be a senior citizen is also rapidly changing.

Record population drop in Japan

Numerous industrialized nations are facing a demographic challenge: an aging population coupled with a low birth rate. Japan is one of these countries and experienced a record population drop in 2010:

Japan faces a looming demographic squeeze. Baby boomers are moving toward retirement, with fewer workers and taxpayers to replace them. The Japanese boast among the highest life expectancies in the world but have extremely low birth rates.

Japan logged 1.19 million deaths in 2010 — the biggest number since 1947 when the health ministry’s annual records began. The number of births was nearly flat at 1.07 million.

As a result, Japan contracted by 123,000 people, which was the most ever and represents the fourth consecutive year of population decline. The top causes of death were cancer, heart disease and stroke, the ministry said.

Japanese aged 65 and older make up about a quarter of Japan’s current population. The government projects that by 2050, that figure will climb to 40 percent.

This will have some enormous social consequences in the coming decades: an growing older population will require more and more government services that will be paid for by a shrinking base of younger workers.

One important piece of the story seems to be missing in this article: immigration. Japan has historically been relatively closed to immigration where other industrialized nations have various rates of immigration. In the United States, population growth has been fueled by higher birth rates than some other industrialized nations plus high levels of immigration. As countries continue to think about this demographic shift, could more nations see immigration as a solution to looming budget issues related to government programs for the elderly?