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Back to School: University-Based Senior Living Trend Nears Next Evolution

Building senior housing on or near college campuses is not a new trend in senior living — but in 2022, it is at the cusp of a new chapter.

For senior living developers, such projects combine the growing desire for more active aging with the youthful energy — and fond memories — of a college campus. Senior living companies like Belmont Village, LCS, Tabitha and Integral Senior Living are helping to further the trend with the belief that doing so today will pay dividends tomorrow — so long as they have the patience to work with universities.

And looking ahead, the trend will continue to grow, according to McNair Living Managing Principal, Ryan Haller. While Haller is bullish on the trend, he notes that it’s a very persnickety product type with unique challenges, and isn’t for the faint of heart.

But at the end of the day, he believes that the trend is still in its early stages. And there are certain projects underway across the country exemplifying a new kind of senior living and university collaboration.

‘Very different kind of building’

While the university-based senior living community concept isn’t new, the trend was given shape and form by Andrew Carle, a former senior living executive and Georgetown University professor who coined the term “university-based retirement community (UBRC)” more than a decade ago.

There are few in the industry who know the trend better than Haller, who has visited more than 60 of the 75 or so university-backed or based communities he has tracked in recent years.

Perhaps the biggest lesson Haller has learned is that such projects truly are a different beast in nearly every category, from site selection and development to lease-up and programming.

“Senior living on college campuses attracts a very different client and a very different type of architect and a very different kind of building,” Haller told Senior Housing News.

Although those kinds of projects carry significant upside, Haller also said they take a lot of planning and thought to work long-term, given their unique characteristics.

One hurdle is that not all universities are open to the idea. Many university executive leaders are concerned by how the senior living industry was portrayed during the Covid-19 pandemic, as Haller said it gives them significant risk management pause.”

That was the experience of Pacific Retirement Services (PRS) CEO Eric Sholty, who noted that the appeal for such projects dried up initially with the pandemic.

“Prior to the pandemic, we were talking with eight other universities,” he told SHN in 2021. “But as the pandemic hit, as you can imagine, most of those conversations came to a halt.”

Other universities don’t seem to want older adults on their campus at all, Haller said. 

“That’s very depressing,” he added.

Haller also estimates that university senior living projects can take somewhere between three and seven years to come together, depending on the size and scope.

“Universities work at glacial speed … they don’t deny it,” Haller said. “You could be $200,000 to 300,000 into a pursuit at a university and not know if they’re moving forward with you or not.”

Projects in motion

But while the barriers to entry for university-based senior living are higher than in a more traditional project, there are several prominent senior living companies that are either working on such a community or have recently opened one.

LCS is just past the halfway point in building its first on-campus senior living community at Purchase College, but the idea started more than a decade ago, according to Vice President of Development Todd Shaw.

LCS broke ground on the project last November, nearly seven years after Westchester Country, New York-based Purchase College chose the company as the project’s developer.

When it’s complete, the community — called Broadview Senior Living at Purchase College — will include 220 total units, all of which will be independent living units with 174 apartment-style units and 46 villa units that include duplex and single-family options.

The college has a rich history of cultivating and housing celebrated performing artists — and that is something future residents will want to be a part of, according to Shaw.

With fewer than 4,000 undergraduate students, Shaw believes the college could be an open opportunity for future projects.

“What I’ve found that’s exciting is there are these other types, smaller colleges, that can really get a benefit, financially and maybe publicly … from a project like this,” he said.

Integral Senior Living (ISL) opened Sooner Station — a community affiliated with the University of Oklahoma — earlier this year.

Sooner Station has 189 units of IL, AL and memory care in Norman, Oklahoma, on land that was once owned by the university. Now, the community is a completely separate entity from the university, according to Heather Haley, regional vice president of sales and marketing with ISL.

Still, Sooner Station is playing on the intense passions of its residents, many of whom have OU in their blood.

“A lot of our residents are very intimately connected to the university, whether they were alumni or their spouses were alumni or athletes,” Haley told SHN.

Oklahoma football is a national powerhouse that is often ranked among the nation’s best college teams — something Sooner Station is well aware of.

“We were a major part of the tailgate, too. We have a sponsorship with the alumni association … our community is at the tailgate events every Saturday,” Haley said.

ISL is not the only operator generating buzz and excitement through football.

Senior care nonprofit Tabitha in March broke ground on its first university-affiliated senior living community in Lincoln, Nebraska the home of the University of Nebraska. The active adult community — InterGenerational Living Community, or InterGen for short — will have specific accommodations meant to enhance the college tailgating experience. WesleyLife is also building in an intergenerational component that the operator is touting as “first-of-its-kind in-the-nation.”

The community is affiliated with Bryan College of Health Sciences, a smaller college based in Lincoln that prioritizes life sciences.

A small group of Bryan students will be given the opportunity to live at the community, according to Ebmeir. The goal of the community is three-fold:

  • Helping meet the demand in the middle market
  • Addressing loneliness among both older adults and college students
  • Solving the senior living labor crisis by introducing the industry in a positive light to bright, young college students

WesleyLife is also collaborating with Drake University on a pilot program to host a 22-year-old music-performance major from Cedar Rapids in its Des Moines-Iowa community, Wesley Acres.

.Belmont Village got into the university senior living trend in 2009 with Belmont Village Westwood, a community developed in collaboration with the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA).

Today, the Houston-based operator’s university partners include the University of Southern California (USC), the University of Texas, the University of Houston UC Berkeley, Vanderbilt University and UC San Diego.

For Belmont, the main purpose of working with universities is to improve the residents’ lives and incubate new ideas. In its newest project with the University of California San Diego in La Jolla, California, academic researchers will have a permanent place in the community to work, something the company is calling a “living lab,” Belmont Village President Mercedes Kerr told SHN.

“We’re starting to see the bleeding edge of baby boomers,” Kerr said. “And they intend to be very engaged and purposeful and productive.”

Next evolution

Haller believes that the senior living industry is standing at a crossroads between the current model of university-based senior living, and its next evolution. And as he looks to the future, he sees some changes on the horizon.

For example, Haller found that the overwhelming majority of university senior living communities currently on the market are continuing care retirement communities. And that has held true in more recent projects.

Pacific Retirement Services (PRS) in 2021 opened a CCRC on the campus of Arizona State University called Mirabella at ASU. The community — which received accolades in the SHN Architecture and Design Awards — sits on a corner of ASU’s campus at 20 stories tall. The community includes shared amenity spaces for both Mirabella residents and ASU students, who also live in the building.

But, Haller thinks college campuses will soon embrace more kinds of community than the CCRC given their stated missions. With large entry fees and often-luxury amenities, CCRCs are popular — but still not a place where most older adults can live.

“The biggest thing that is going on with universities post-covid is a real focus on diversity, equity and inclusion,” said Haller.

Instead, Haller believes universities will opt for a traditional rental model to include residents from as many backgrounds as possible. And, they will look to integrate the community into all walks of life, not just through programming.

Some projects underway already reflect these changes. Broadview at Purchase College will include 44 affordable units for residents earning fewer than 80% of the median income for Westchester County, New York.

That balance between school and community is the key to creating a successful crossover project, according to Haller. “[Universities] want to see that you have the curriculum and you have the programming,” he said.

For example, At Mirabella, ASU music students not only live in the building, but they also perform live in the community’s bar and dining room.

But, Tempe, Arizona where ASU is based, is part of a major metropolitan area with an estimated five million residents; so, the kind of programming that will be successful there, may not work in smaller college towns like Lincoln, Nebraska and Norman, Oklahoma where Tabitha and Integral Senior Living have their university projects.

At the end of the day, the university-based senior living trend is rapidly evolving. Haller believes it is among the industry’s most promising product types. And for operators that can stomach the nuance, there is plenty of opportunity.

The post Back to School: University-Based Senior Living Trend Nears Next Evolution appeared first on Senior Housing News.

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