Gross move-ins at Enlivant senior living communities in Sabra Health Care REIT’s portfolio hit their highest levels in 18 months in March, according to the Irvine, CA-based real estate investment trust.
Move-ins in the managed portfolio were close to the historical peak of 2.3 move-ins per community per month. Also, the number of leads and tours in March 2021 were 35% above March 2019 levels, Sabra said, adding that the momentum continued into April. At the same time, 13% fewer move-outs occurred in March than budgeted, continuing a decline to normalized move-out levels since the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine began.
“Over the past few quarters, we’ve all speculated about the extent of pent up demand for senior housing. Now we have some statistics that suggest the immediate demand is deep,” Sabra Executive Vice President, Chief Investment Officer and Treasurer Talya Nevo-Hacohen said Thursday on the REIT’s first-quarter earnings call.
Distribution of the vaccine has been “the linchpin for the turnaround in senior housing in the United States,” she said.
Holiday Retirement properties in Sabra’s portfolio of managed senior living properties also experienced a significant increase in move-ins in March and April and saw a similar declining trend in move-outs, according to the REIT. Total net move-ins for those two months was 29, or approximately 1% of the total units in Sabra’s Holiday portfolio.
Holiday lags Enlivant because, as an independent living operator, it was not prioritized by the federal government for vaccination and had to create its own vaccine program, Nevo-Hacohen said. By the end of April, however, each Holiday community in Sabra’s portfolio had completed two vaccine clinics. “We expect move-outs to normalize to pre-pandemic levels as the vaccine clinics are completed,” she added.
Overall, across Sabra’s portfolio of managed senior living properties, average occupancy hit bottom during the first half of March and increased 143 basis points (1.43%) through the end of April. Average occupancy for the REIT’s portfolio of leased senior living properties bottomed out during the first half of February and increased 365 basis points (3.65%) through the end of April.
Average quarterly occupancy in the managed portfolio was 77% to 79% in wholly owned independent living and assisted living communities (48 properties) and 68% to 70% in the 158 unconsolidated joint venture assisted living properties.
“Expenses associated with the pandemic spiked with the post-holiday surge, but with the success of the vaccination uptake expenses started decreasing during the quarter, and over time should stabilize at levels not materially higher than pre-COVID-19 levels,” the REIT said about same-store occupancy in its managed portfolio in a press release issued in conjunction with the earnings call.
In the leased portfolio, with 65 senior living properties, occupancy was 81% in the quarter.
Sabra Chairman, President and CEO Rick Matros said he expects senior housing occupancy to return to pre-pandemic levels in the latter half of 2022, or at least “close enough that the market’s going to feel like, ‘Yeah, we’re going to get there.’ ”
Joint venture decision
Sabra has delayed a decision about its joint venture with TPG Real Estate, through which it has a 49% stake in a portfolio of dozens of Enlivant senior living communities, Matros said.
In February, he said a decision would come later this year.
“Both we and, importantly, TPG, have decided that we really need to give the portfolio some time to recover,” Matros said. “And so, there’s not really a timeframe on it, but I would expect that at this point, we just want to see some recovery at some trajectory over the next few months.”
Ultimately, Sabra will be “working with TPG and be making a decision on whether we retain or buy their 51% out, or we exit the portfolio,” he said in February.
“Either way,” Matros said Thursday, “we feel like we’re in a good position, but …this just isn’t the right time to put something like this on the market.”
During the first quarter, Sabra added a senior living community to its managed portfolio. The Claiborne at West Lake in Martinez, GA, is a 100-unit assisted living and memory care community managed by Claiborne Senior Living. The investment amount was $5.2 million, $2 million of it as of March 31.
May 1, the REIT acquired a 116-unit Baxter Senior Living assisted living and memory care community in Anchorage, AL, for $32.5 million. The community, managed by Paradigm Senior Living, now is part of Sabra’s managed portfolio as well.
“There may be an opportunity to expand that property and add some additional units, specifically IL units,” Nevo-Hacohen said.
Matros said the REIT has $1.5 billion in its investment pipeline that is being reviewed, most of it in senior housing.
Federal funding for senior housing
The CEO also said that $24.5 billion remains in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act Provider Relief Fund and another $8.5 billion remains for rural providers — and perhaps more funds will be available as healthcare businesses that ended up not needing the assistance start returning some of the funds they received.
“We do believe that we will have access to some level of monies in that fund. The decisions haven’t been made yet, but we expect that we will have access to some of that in the rural provider piece,” he said. “Senior housing is being included in that dialogue, so we feel much more optimistic that there will be some funds available for senior living … as well.”
For additional coverage from the call, check out our sister site McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.