Occupancy at U.S. senior living communities — independent living and assisted living combined — reached a record low of 78.8% in the first quarter, according to new NIC MAP data released today. The news marks the sixth consecutive quarter that occupancy has declined. Four of those quarters have been during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Occupancy fell 1.8 percentage points from the last quarter of 2020 and 8.7 percentage points from a year ago.

“It’s not surprising that a global pandemic and a specific virus that causes severe illness in older people is keeping senior housing occupancy at historic lows,” National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care Chief Economist Beth Burnham Mace said in a statement.

First-quarter data show similar record low occupancy levels for assisted living and independent living properties. Assisted living occupancy fell two percentage points to 75.5% in the first quarter, and independent living occupancy dropped 1.6 percentage points to 81.8%. Since March 2020, assisted and independent living occupancy has fallen by 9.5 and 7.9 percentage points, respectively.

Occupancy rates across metropolitan markets also varied greatly. San Francisco (84.2%), San Jose, CA (83.4%), and Seattle (82.9%) had the highest occupancy rates of the 31 metropolitan markets that encompass NIC MAP’s primary markets. Houston (72.9%), Atlanta (73.5%), and Cleveland (74.2%) recorded the lowest occupancy rates of the primary markets.

Data from the next two quarters will reveal whether older adults and their families are ready to consider moving into senior living communities again, Mace said.

“It also is not surprising that occupancy improvement has not yet become evident since there is a natural lag between the time someone inquires about moving into senior housing and the time that person actually moves into a property,” she said.

Vaccination rates among residents offer a reason for hope, because COVID-19 case counts and mortality rates are decreasing, NIC Chief Operating Officer Chuck Harry said.

Although resident vaccination rates have not translated into a senior living occupancy recovery yet, he said, “As move-in moratoriums continue to be lifted and operators get more inquiries from prospective residents, leads and property tours, occupancy may increase in the months ahead.”

View additional information via the NIC website.

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