Remaining “sober and clear-eyed” about the national increase in COVID-19 cases, Ventas Chairman and CEO Debra Cafaro said Friday that the Chicago-based real estate investment trust remains committed to the strength of its senior housing business.
The industry continues to bear the brunt of the coronavirus outbreak, resulting in occupancy declines and increased expenses, Cafaro said during the REIT’s third-quarter earnings call. But she added that she sees an upside to senior housing’s future.
“Our communities demonstrated sustained increases in leads and move-ins that continued through October,” Cafaro said. “While we are sober and clear-eyed about the recent increase in COVID-19 cases nationally, to a record level of nearly 120,000 confirmed cases today, we believe in the strength of the senior living business as we look toward the post-pandemic environment.”
Approximately 140,000 resident and employee coronavirus tests have been administered at the senior living communities in Ventas’ portfolio. In October, the number of communities with new resident cases was 47 (6%), compared with a high of 101 (26.6%) in April. Approximately 93% of Ventas’ senior living communities either never had a confirmed coronavirus resident case or have not had a case in the past 14 days.
Ventas applied for approximately $35 million in Provider Relief Fund grants from phase 2 of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act on behalf of its assisted living communities to partially mitigate COVID-19 losses. The REIT’s triple-net lease portfolio received $75 million in Provider Relief Fund grants.
September senior living average occupancy was 79.6%, or 130 basis points lower than June average occupancy of 80.9%. September average occupancy was 30 basis points lower compared with August.
Leads and move-ins showed consistently improving trends through the end of September, Ventas said, coming in at 85% and 94%, respectively, compared with the prior year. October resident move-ins exceeded move-outs, with 96% of portfolio communities accepting move-ins.
Justin Hutchens, executive vice president of senior housing, North America, said he expects occupancy to soften and expenses to remain flat in the fourth quarter.
After acquiring Quebec-based Le Groupe Maurice last year, 33% of Ventas’ senior housing operating portfolio is in Canada. Building on LGM’s strong performance in active adult communities, Cafaro said Ventas is investing almost $420 million in ground-up development of senior living communities.
The Candian portfolio represents 33% of Ventas’ senior housing operating portfolio. The 72 communities within its same-store pool, including its LGM investment, were 93.2% occupied, compared with 93.7% for the second quarter, outperforming the United States portfolio.
The REIT also recently sold or placed under contract certain portfolios of senior living assets that it does not consider long-term holds.
“We want to continue to make senior housing a key part of our diversified portfolio because of the operational asset class upside post-pandemic, the demographically driven demand that is in front of us, and the continued improvement on the supply side,” Cafaro said. “There remains a strong bid from private capital for senior living, which supports our conclusion.”
Ventas introduced new long-term environmental goals to reduce its emissions, energy, water and waste by 2028. The goals were outlined in the company’s 2020 Corporate Sustainability Report.
Sixteen of the company’s senior housing operating portfolio properties, comprising 1.9 million square feet, are LEED-certified.