Assisted living continues to grow rapidly in expanded markets

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Assisted living growth continues to be concentrated in specific markets, with almost three-fourths of new construction in 10 metro markets, according to new findings released Thursday at the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care Industry annual conference in Chicago.

While there was concern last year about the rapid growth in assisted living, the most recent data indicates that “things have leveled off,” said Chuck Harry, NIC managing director and director of research and analytics.

“It's a little more tempered,” he said. But growth remains concentrated, with 70% of assisted living construction in 10 top markets, and 22% of new construction in the New York and Houston regions alone. Houston's assisted living construction, for example, was nearly 17% of available inventory in the first quarter of 2013, and there were eight new communities scheduled to open last year, noted Cambridge Realty Capital.

In total, the industry is worth around $330 billion, Harry said at the conference. The sector has “proven its resiliency,” he added.

Memory care continues to be a popular investment, explained NIC President Robert Kramer, with a focus in three areas: Continuing care retirement communities are renovating existing campuses; independent living/assisted living are adding units; and freestanding memory care facilities are being built.

While noting the potential for interest rates to rise, NIC Chief Economist Beth Mace, also discussed the impact of labor availability, or lack thereof, in mitigating growth in certain regions. She related visiting a rural part of northern Minnesota, where operators noted a lack of a labor pool. In comparison, Texas has seen strong economic growth and has a wider availability of labor.

Investors looking at senior housing also should realize that in the top 31 assisted living markets, high penetration does not necessarily correlate to low occupancy. That's from Senior Housing Analytics Principal Larry Rouvelas, who led a session titled “Market Feasability Analysis and Sizing Up a Market.”

“There are plenty of markets that have high penetration and high occupancy,” he said. A big part of that is tradition in the community related to going into long-term care. In Southeast Pennsylvania, for example, Quaker communities for generations have accepted that reaching a certain age meant transition into senior housing.

“Comparatively, Las Vegas has low occupancy, and Las Vegas doesn't have a tradition of much of anything,” he joked.

In skilled nursing, the news remains dim. Gaurie Rodman, director of development services at Direct Supply Aptura, noted that skilled nursing beds are continuing to decline as residents' acuity levels rise.

“There are two nursing homes closing a week,” she said. “Skilled nursing facilities will be built differently and with more flexibility.”

In other NIC-related news, the typical new resident in assisted living is today an 84-year-old woman who is widowed and needs assistance with two Activities of Daily Living, according to the third edition of the NIC Investment Guide, which was released in connection with the conference.The guide is available for purchase in print and ebook versions. 

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