40 for 40 logo with David Schless headshot

Editor’s note: As part of the 40th anniversary of McKnight’s, McKnight’s Senior Living and McKnight’s Long-Term Care News are recognizing 40 notable newsmakers. Each week, the brands will highlight a new, high-profile leader from the past four decades. Previously published installments of the series are posted here.

The American Seniors Housing Association traces its roots back to the early days of the senior living industry, beginning in 1991 under the auspices of the National Multifamily Housing Council. In 2000, as the senior living industry continued to grow, the group became a separate, independent association.

David Schless, ASHA’s president, has led the organization every step of the way for the past 30 years.

“You can’t separate ASHA from David and David from ASHA, because he’s been there the whole time,” says Senior Lifestyle co-founder and Chairman Bill Kaplan, who has also been active since the beginning and was the association’s chairman in 2002-2003.

Schless joined the NMHC in 1991 to head its seniors housing committee after having served on the staff of the National Association for Senior Living Industries for two years, having gained aging services-related knowledge through studies leading to a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Connecticut and a Master of Science degree from the University of North Texas.

Kaplan described him as a “wealth of knowledge and information” and “driven.”

“I have a lot of respect for David,” he said. “He’s a consummate professional.”

In the beginning, Kaplan added, ASHA “gave us a voice. It gave us a purpose, and it gave a place for us as industry members to be able to meet with our peers and our associates at one single place.”

Over the years, Schless has built up membership and fostered relationships with other associations serving operators. In addition to offering forums where members can exchange information, ASHA also funds research, publishes reports and advocates for providers.

Along the way, ASHA formed the Seniors Housing PAC, the first political action committee of its kind, to maintain a strong, unified voice on federal issues affecting the industry.

More recently, in 2016 ASHA launched a consumer campaign, Where You Live Matters, to educate older adults and their families about housing options that are available to help them age well. Two years later, the association launched the ASHA Senior Living Hall of Fame to recognize visionaries in the industry. Six people were inducted in 2018, three in 2019 and four in 2020.

Over the decades, Schless has ridden the ups and downs of the industry along with the association’s members. During the coronavirus pandemic this year, ASHA has advocated for financial aid and testing for senior living operators to battle COVID-19 as well as priority for senior living residents and staff members when a vaccine becomes available.

“He’s taken hold of the things that were necessary as an association for our industry and really stepped up his game,” Kaplan said of Schless.

“He’s one of the good guys.”