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Samaritas has started on a $16.2 million project at St. Joseph Seminary in the Garfield Park neighborhood of Grand Rapids. The nonprofit plans to turn the site into 53 apartments for people aged 55 and older. Samaritas has started on a $16.2 million project at St. Joseph Seminary in the Garfield Park neighborhood of Grand Rapids. The nonprofit plans to turn the site into 53 apartments for people aged 55 and older. COURTESY PHOTO

West Michigan sees continued demand to build senior housing

BY Sunday, December 08, 2019 11:29am

Senior housing development has been booming across West Michigan and nationwide as the population ages and more people need help as they get older. 

While some communities have cited shifting needs and preferences among the older generations in questioning the need for so much new senior housing, research shows Grand Rapids still has demand for senior living facilities, suggesting the building boom is likely to continue across the region. 

“The demand for affordable housing for seniors, as well as independent living, assisted living, skilled nursing or memory care is only going to grow very significantly in the coming years,” said Sam Beals, CEO of Samaritas, a nonprofit senior housing developer.

Last month, Samaritas broke ground on an affordable senior living project in the Garfield Park neighborhood of Grand Rapids. The $16.2 million project to expand the St. Joseph Seminary into 53 apartments for people aged 55 and older is one of several senior living developments to launch this year in West Michigan. 

The Samaritas project and others like it across the country aim to get in front of the so-called gray wave, as the population of people age 65 and older is expected to reach 106.7 million by 2030. That’s more than triple the senior population in 1995, according to the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC). The NIC, a nonprofit that compiles data on senior housing for investors, reported that the number of new units being brought online this year was the highest since it began tracking the data in 2006. In Grand Rapids, occupancy for senior housing developments stood at 91.6 percent, higher than the national average of 87.8 percent. 

Developers around the country have banked on Baby Boomers flocking to senior living facilities, although in Grand Rapids that phenomenon seems more certain compared to other communities, said Beth Mace, chief economist and director of outreach at NIC.

“It doesn’t look to me that there’s been oversupply, at least at this point,” Mace told MiBiz. “Grand Rapids isn’t a market that’s getting me really nervous in terms of supply.”

According to NIC’s data, the Grand Rapids core-based statistical area, comprised of Barry, Kent, Montcalm and Ottawa counties, has about 63 senior living properties comprised of 8,600 units.

The continued demand for senior housing has developers adding more inventory in the West Michigan area. That includes Kentucky-based Trilogy Health Services’ 107-room Byron Township facility that’s set to open by the end of the month. Trilogy is also constructing a facility in Plainfield Township. The Holland City Council also approved a 216-unit senior housing project on the south side of Holland earlier this year. Berkshire Muskegon, an 84-unit senior apartment community, opened earlier this year in downtown Muskegon. 

Even so, there is still demand for more, Mace said.

Beals at Samaritas expects new projects to have high occupancy rates based on the lifestyle and health needs of seniors. 

“We know having a safe, secure and stable housing situation is a primary determinant for health, so when folks are in that kind of a setting and we have our service coordinator making sure they’re involved in the community and living a vibrant life, they stay for a long time,” Beals said. “It’s very stable housing for them, so it’s a win-win-win for the community.”

Shifting needs

While senior housing demand remains strong in West Michigan, developers also need to focus on planning for the sort of lifestyle future seniors want. 

More often in recent years, developers have built senior living projects near core cities that offer the resources seniors need. For example, independent senior living facility Tapestry Square includes 84 apartments along Wealthy Street, near downtown Grand Rapids.

Sources told MiBiz that people are increasingly interested in locations that are more walkable, 24/7-type communities, which also fits with where staff for the senior living facilities want to live. 

“It still has to meet a criteria as being a certain distance away from medical care, on a public transportation line, being a certain distance from grocery stores or pharmacies,” Beals said.

Many Baby Boomers would like to age in place, different from their parents who make up the population currently living in senior housing. However, many Boomers might lack the resources to do so because they typically have had fewer children than their parents, and have gotten divorced more often so they might not have a spouse to help them.

The trends are driving Samaritas to develop more affordable senior housing projects next year. The developer has projects planned for Muskegon, Grand Rapids, Lansing and Detroit at a minimum, Beals said.

“The desire to live at home may not always be matched by the ability to do so,” said Mace of NIC.

Overall it is more common for people to live in senior housing in Grand Rapids than it is nationally, according to NIC data. 

“Some of the construction may be developers responding to the fact that people like to live in senior housing in Grand Rapids, as evidenced by the relatively high occupancy rate,” Mace said.

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