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Transforming multi-family homes for an aging population

by Ana Lopez
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Dave Marcinkowski is a founder/partner in Madeira Residential and Quext, focused on creating smarter, healthier apartment communities.

“Let me grow beautiful, grow old,” wrote the American poet Karle Wilson Baker, who died in 1960. Baker gently challenged the idea that aging is something to be fought, suggesting instead that it is a natural process that our appreciation for life.

Since Baker’s time, the later stage of life has extended, thanks to advances in medicine and greater awareness of health and wellness. That’s what the US Census Bureau estimated more than 70 million adults 65 and older lived in the US in 2019 and that number is only growing. Living longer means nearly every industry needs to adapt its services to an increasingly mature consumer, even multifamily homes.

Older households are changing the landscape for both the housing market and the rental market. The number of elderly homeowners increased by more than 2.5 million between 2016 and 2019, according to a report by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. And adults age 55 and older accounted for about two-thirds of rental housing growth between 2004 and 2019.

From my perspective as a founder and partner in the multifamily investment space, I believe mature residents are looking for housing options that allow them to enjoy their independence and stay connected to a community. To keep pace with what older Americans want, need and expect, multifamily home managers must listen to them and plan to meet those challenges.

Older renters: a growing demographic that knows what they want

So, what does an aging demographic look for when selecting a multifamily community?

Older adults are showing a renewed interest in forming and maintaining relationships with peers, as well as a fervor to make meaningful contributions to society. a study published in 2018 found that the majority of older adults surveyed “exhibit high levels of prosocial values ​​and behaviors,” and 31% “identify, prioritize, adopt, and actively pursue goals that are both personally meaningful and contribute to the greater good.”

Unfortunately, there is proof suggest that older adults are a stigmatized group in the U.S. From my perspective, not only are negative assumptions about older Americans inaccurate, but they also fail to appreciate the realities of today’s housing and rental market, one increasingly dominated by senior citizens living independently and have a unique set of wants and needs.

To tap into this growing market, property managers do well to conduct surveys and polls. This will help them better understand their needs and preferences and create programs and policies that will satisfy these residents.

Accessibility, community and support: the future of multifamily housing

The first place to start in engaging this population is a new approach to community building opportunities in shared living spaces. Ride-share programs, custom fitness or pool centers, food services, game centers, and even lecture halls or classrooms are all options to consider when implementing community-enhancing design in multifamily homes.

The smart use of technology in shared living spaces can also open many doors to strengthen and maintain connections. Consider the following examples of programs that multifamily homeowners can offer to bring older residents closer together.

• Virtual games with community members (possibly with added personal elements), possibly using virtual reality headsets.

• Preferred travel agency services and community travel integrations.

• Food and cooking experiences (virtual, in-person or both).

• Opportunities for educational pursuits and special interests, including integration with local community colleges or libraries, book and/or movie clubs, yoga/tai chi classes, music classes, and memberships to local museums.

• Implement systematized access to community assistance for groceries, meals and other tasks.

• Community Activities Portal to organize programs and activities and make them visible and available to residents who wish to participate.

In addition to shared spaces, the older person’s experience in their private space should also be carefully considered. Better lighting, temperature control, built-in voice and gesture controls, safety and emergency functions and intuitive device integrations are all elements that can increase a sense of convenience, security and independence.

It takes a connected village – all your life

As the population of older Americans continues to grow, their unique wants and needs are changing, both in terms of their choice of residence and otherwise. Multifamily property managers who innovatively address these needs are at the forefront of what will soon become an even higher demand market. With innovative community models, they will play a vital role in redefining society’s vision of what is possible in the later years of life – and in allowing their senior residents to ‘get beautiful’ in their home of choice .

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