Retirement redefined: Area communities trying to meet senior housing needs

The state demography center is projecting is that by 2035 there will be more seniors living in Anoka County than children and young adults.

There are different living options available for seniors, according to Dawn Simonson, executive director of the Metropolitan Area Agency on Aging. There are condominiums and townhomes to own, apartment units to rent at market rate or below market rate if the development received some government subsidy, assisted living units, adult foster care facilities for no more than five people and memory care, which is also referred to as nursing homes.

Wayne Olson, senior vice president of operations for the Volunteers of America (VOA), said what seniors saw as a good retirement in the past will be different than what seniors in the future will think. Part of it is due to people living longer. Instead of being in a nursing home for several years, some may be in a senior facility for multiple decades.

The baby boomers will want choices that vary depending on interest, needs and cost.

“We don’t want one box of cereal. We want 97 boxes of cereal from totally sugar-laden to totally nuts and twigs,” Olson said.

City councils develop comprehensive plans that note land uses and densities, and city staff can answer questions, but it is up to developers to find the properties, said Blaine Planning and Community Development Director Bryan Schafer. For example, a property may be zoned for high density housing. This could include an apartment for people of any age or senior only housing.

The new demands

Schafer believes that most seniors prefer to stay in their homes, but a life change – be it financial or health related – causes them to look at other options. The problem is the housing crisis is making it difficult for seniors to sell their homes.

Senior resources
available in Anoka County
• Senior Information Line: 763-783-4707
• Anoka County Senior Social Work Services, 763-422-7070
• Anoka County Family Caregiver Connection (formerly known as the Senior Caregiver Network),
• Anoka County Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP),
• Anoka County Community Health and Environmental Services,
• Anoka County Economic Assistance, 763-422-7246

Five to six years ago, Nancy Hamann said the Walker on the River facility in Anoka, which she manages, had waiting lists with only two to three people. The waiting list today includes about 35 people and could be up to a year-and-a-half for someone that has a car. The waiting list is much shorter (six to eight months) for those without a car because parking is limited on and near the site, Hamann said.

Hamann mostly attributes the increased demand on the housing crisis. People are downsizing and looking for more affordable options. Walker on the River is federally subsidized Section 8 housing and rent is based on 30 percent of a person’s annual income minus medical expenses.

Hamann and Simonson both said the greatest need is for affordable housing. Simonson said this could come from developments having more modest amenities or government subsidies such as tax increment financing (TIF), which takes additional tax revenue created by the new development to help pay off the construction debt.

Blaine’s Economic Development Authority (EDA) has assisted several developments through the TIF funding mechanism, according to Schafer.

Simonson said seniors don’t necessarily want to be around just other older adults. Studies she has seen showed that the baby boomer generation would like to be around a more diverse age group. Easy access to transportation and retail stores are other key elements to meeting the future demands, Simonson said.

Sue Ferguson, marketing director for Essentials Decisions Inc., said one of the benefits older adults see in these communities with more services is being able to socialize rather than just sitting in an apartment or care suite by themselves. The nursing homes of the past were more like a hospital. The new facilities are more of a social model.

Development examples

The city of Andover recently committed $540,000 of TIF to Arbour Oaks, LLC so it can develop a three-story, 70-unit facility that will mostly include one-bedroom assisted living units, but will also have two-bedroom assisted living units, memory care units and one and two-bedroom independent living rooms.

As a trade-off, Arbour Oaks, LLC assured in writing that at least 20 percent of the units would be rented to people whose incomes do not exceed 50 percent of the median county income.

Other amenities would include a community room and wellness facility, a coffee shop, private dining room, salon, a spa, laundry room, media center and library, a facility owned van for transportation and social programming options.

The VOA is building a $35 million senior housing campus called The Homestead at Anoka. The facility is expected to open in spring 2013 and include 127 skilled nursing beds including transitional care, secured memory care and a rehab clinic, 27 independent living units and 32 assisted living units.

The facility will also feature a club room, general store, hairstyling salon, private dining room and community room. The site on Fourth Avenue is located just north of Anoka’s Northstar Commuter Rail station.

Essentials Decisions Inc. assisted the VOA in researching the market for this project. Ferguson said it discovered there is more demand for projects north of the Mississippi River than south of the river because there are not as many existing options.

Ferguson said there are 371 independent senior housing units without amenities in seven communities within the Homestead of Anoka’s market area, which includes portions of Andover, Anoka, Champlin, Coon Rapids, Ham Lake and Ramsey. There are 358 independent senior housing units with services such as meals, housekeeping and activities in four facilities.

Ferguson said her company’s analysis shows that the four facilities with amenities have higher occupancy level.

Eric Hagen is at [email protected]