A Place to Call Home As U.S. population ages, the need for senior housing increases and requirements evolve

Weinberg Manor South, located on the same campus as Manors West and East, has already rented out 90 percent of its units. (Photos by Melissa Gerr)

Weinberg Manor South, located on the same campus as Manors West and East, has already rented out 90 percent of its units. (Photos by Melissa Gerr)

The often-described “graying of America” or “age quake” has influenced developments in the senior housing market, creating a growing concern for availability as well as a growing business.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration on Aging, by the year 2030, 19 percent of the population — 72 million people — will be age 65 or older in the U.S., more than twice the amount of just 15 years ago. The American Association of Retired Persons asserts, even more specifically, that approximately 8,000 baby boomers will turn age 65 each day for the next decade.

Case in point, Weinberg Manor South, Comprehensive Housing Assistance, Inc.’s (CHAI) newest senior housing location on Fords Lane in Baltimore City, has already rented out about 90 percent of its 90 units. It opened at the end of December.

At the facility, whose completion took just over a year from funding to finish, residents can enjoy a community dining area, a hair salon, a wellness suite (with a doctor, nurse and therapist staffed as needed), a crafts room, a game and computer room, library and a volunteer-run convenience store, all located on the premises. There is also a shuttle service to take residents on errands and on other excursions.

These services are directly in line with what Alexis Denton, a gerontologist and architect with SmithGroup JJR, claims are big trends in senior housing.

“I think the biggest trend is incorporating wellness into senior housing, I mean more than just the typical fitness area,” she said, noting that new senior living communities now tend to feature spas, massage rooms and, as evidenced at Weinberg Manor South, an on-site clinic where visiting doctors and nurses can see patients.

Denton is a member of the American Institute of Architects Design for Aging Knowledge Community, an organization that, according to its website, strives to “foster design innovation and disseminate knowledge necessary to enhance the built environment and quality of life for an aging society.”

Citing the increasingly common addition of game rooms, mixed-use social halls and multiple dining room settings in senior housing, Denton said, “It’s really designing to be social. That’s why senior living is a great answer for so many seniors; otherwise they’d be aging at home, and that can be very isolating.”

“I’m excited, I’m on the first floor, and everything is right here,” said Celina Chakarov, who moved from the Rockland Run condominium development after she began to feel isolated from family and friends. “I want to do everything, that’s why I moved to a place like this.”

Weinberg Manor South also offers a full-time Russian-speaking Jewish Community Services support service coordinator and a JCC activity coordinator. Students from the neighboring Bnos Yisroel of Baltimore will also work with residents on computer skills, said Cindy Zonies, the director of resident services at Weinberg Senior Living.

“We encourage socialization,” she added.

“A strong community is one that does acts of charitable kindness for people in need,” said Mitch Posner, executive director of CHAI. “And vulnerable older adults are near the top of that list,” so providing safe, clean, service-enriched, state-of the-art homes for older adults is a community’s responsibility.

Ellen Jarrett, director of housing and planning development at CHAI, has witnessed many trends and influences in affordable senior housing during her 23 years with the organization.

Most recently, she said, “technology has changed a lot of what you can do in a building.”

For instance, at the senior buildings managed by CHAI, medical pendants are issued to all residents that allow them to make contact with someone outside the building in case of an emergency; such emergency call units used to be hard-wired and stationary, like pull-cords. Also, 24-hour monitoring and secure entry systems are a regular expectation by residents at the 15 facilities that bear the Weinberg name, she said.

New resident Celina Chakarov looks forward to taking advantage of all the amenities and meeting her neighbors.

New resident Celina Chakarov looks forward to taking advantage of all the amenities and meeting her neighbors.

Jarrett also noted that requirements for environmentally safer building construction has affected development costs that can sometimes translate to higher rental fees, but the trend that really concerns her is that over the last 20 years, federal dollars available for affordable senior housing have decreased significantly.

“When I started, there was the [Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly] program through the federal government, which allowed us to do our first five projects, [each with] 100-plus units,” recalled Jarrett. “So we could reach the lowest income resident and still have a good product. That [funding] has pretty much gone away.”

In addition to the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, Inc. and city funds, the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program — a state-run disbursement funded with federal dollars — provided the bulk of the funding for Weinberg Manor South.

“It’s extremely competitive, and there is not enough money to give to everyone who applies,” Jarrett said of LIHTC, adding that 25 applications were submitted, but only 11 received funding.

“When Manor South got funded, in 2013, we were the only senior project that received funding in the whole state” and most of the remaining funding fell to affordable family housing, she explained. “It is increasingly more and more difficult to find [affordable] senior housing, and the need and demand is increasing right now, but there is less and less money to do it.”

In the past 15 years, CHAI has developed 1,500 senior units in its area, which lies between Northern Parkway up to Owings Mills and from Falls Road to Reisterstown Road, and includes some adjacent areas as well. Manor South cost approximately $150,000 to $165,000 per unit, said Jarrett, including the land purchase, construction, attorney and architectural fees, outfitting each apartment with appliances and everything else needed to get the building up and running.

Property-wise, Baltimore City and County offer more affordable senior housing than many areas across Maryland, she said. But even in light of those numbers, all of CHAI’s buildings have waiting lists for available units. She forecasts those numbers will double due to the exponential increase of senior-aged adults. Jarrett, who works on both affordable family and senior housing projects, said the competition for federal funding dollars often favors family projects. But she’s hopeful that government priorities might shift in favor of seniors, given the expected sharp increase in that population.

Options Abound

The private sector has responded to the growth in the senior population with the development of various properties and services such as A Place for Mom, which advises about 200,000 families per year across the United States to help navigate the growing number of housing and care options available to seniors.

Maryland-based Jennifer Fenton, A Place for Mom senior living adviser for two years, works with clients to determine their potential medical care needs, housing desires and available financial resources, then connects them with the best match for their list of requirements.

“Something I’m seeing a lot of people request and look for are communities that offer a continuum of care,” said Fenton, “where they can age in place as their [physical or medical] needs increase. … They want to be able to stay [at a residence] through end of life.”

These clients look for places that “provide an independent living atmosphere but can increase care needs if necessary,” she said. But most seniors she works with want to avoid large campus continuing care retirement communities, where there are often 10 to 15 buildings to navigate. People are concerned they are “going to get lost, that it’s too overwhelming” and that they may need “to get into a golf cart to get to dining area.”

The approximately 30 independent living housing properties in Baltimore City and County Fenton works with are 100 percent private pay, she said, and costs can range from $2,500 per month for an independent living facility up to $8,000 per month on the high end for a facility that provides care to a person suffering from Alzheimer’s or other memory loss diseases.

Independent living costs cover rent in a senior-friendly constructed building, all utilities, one to two meals per day — restaurant-style, where residents are served their food and drinks — general housekeeping such as trash removal and laundry services and even some activities and entertainment.

Dorothy Ridley pauses from unpacking. She moved from New York to be closer to her nieces.

Dorothy Ridley pauses from unpacking. She moved from New York to be closer to her nieces.

“The other huge part, probably the most important part,” added Fenton, “means access to care 24 hours per day.” If a resident pulls an emergency cord or makes an alert with a medical pendant, “someone will be there within minutes to help them.”

There is also a system of checks and balances such as, if someone doesn’t show up to a meal, a staff person will go and check on them, which, said Fenton, “gives families a lot of peace of mind.”

The gist of it is that there are “lots of support systems in place to allow residents to live independently for much longer,” Fenton said.

At the other end of the cost and care spectrum is assisted living which, she explained, “is a totally different beast. Those residents have specific needs and a care plan in place. They’re also getting meals and medication management” among many other services. There are approximately 300 such facilities in the greater Baltimore area, according to Fenton.

Another private sector response to senior housing needs is the development of Leisure World in Silver Spring, home to 8,000 residents, who qualify for entry at age 55. With the opening of Villa Cortese in October 2012, the 610-acre community, founded in 1966, has been developed to maximum capacity.

Developer Ken Woodring, in partnership with Della Ratta Inc., broke ground on the newest 46-unit condominium building nearly three years ago when for-sale housing stock in the community dropped off from 268 units in the late 1980s to around 80 units, he told Montgomery Newsletter, a real estate development publication.

The four-story construction stands out against the community’s older buildings — a mixture of single family homes, low- and high-rise apartments — with its modern façade and added amenities such as a hospitality suite for visiting guests. It balances what active seniors are looking for in terms of private housing with access to the larger community’s longstanding amenities, including a golf course, swimming pools and a shopping center.

Residents of the newest building expect to age in place for quite some time, and though many downsize from single family homes, they are settling into units that have as many as three bedrooms and two-and-a-half bathrooms.

“It’s a big decision when people decide to move into a retirement community. It’s kind of an emotional decision, it’s not a snap decision,” said Woodring, adding that clients have taken six months to decide whether to let go of their family homes in favor of senior living.

Regarding predictions for future trends, Fenton said five or 10 years ago, seniors most often moved based on a physical-care need or family relocation. Now the trend seems to be that older adults want to get out of their three- and four-story homes and avoid all the maintenance that goes with it.

“Seniors are making moves based on their wants,” she said, like someone to do their laundry, take out the trash and cook their meals, and they want to enjoy activities and entertainment. “It’s like living on a cruise ship.”

More and more, Fenton sees people in their 70s and 80s who have saved up and want to enjoy their retirement, so they make the move sooner and also avoid forcing those decisions on their adult children. Jarrett similarly has begun to see an uptick in the request for two-bedroom housing units.

“We’ve found there’s a need for people to share a unit — maybe sisters, or a husband and wife who have been married for 50 years, but now they want their own [sleeping] space, or other caretaker,” she said. “Also relatives; someone can live independently but might need someone to help with service needs.”

She has also noticed that similar to the general population, senior housing requests have begun to favor more open living space design.

“When you first started [designing senior housing] you had a separate dining, kitchen, small spaces,” she said. “Now there’s been a trend to have more open spaces.”

The breakthrough in technology use is another area that is seeing expansion and that Jarrett is excited about. The Internet allows residents to have potentially more connection outside of a building, she said, and there is exploration into bringing services to people via the Internet. For instance, it would be possible to meet with a counselor online weekly in addition to face-to-face to increase human contact.

“A lot of our seniors, they need that social connection with someone, to make sure they’re OK,” said Jarrett. “They might be happier and able to stay in their unit longer if they have [added] contact with the outside. This group [of incoming seniors] is more Internet friendly, they’ll be more open to those types of things.”

Denton hopes senior living residences might eventually integrate into the wider community, with mixed-use spaces being opened up to the public. Traditionally, senior communities have been tucked away, but urban development or redevelopment could encourage free-flow between seniors and the wider community, she said.

Jarrett said that CHAI, in an effort to proactively address seniors’ evolving housing desires, elicits feedback from their current residents before designing a new building.

“Every building is not cookie cutter,” said Jarret. “There’s always an evolution. … We feel it’s really important to make a home that someone wants to live in.”

mapter@jewishtimes.com; mgerr@jewishtimes.com

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