It’s a critical time for the ‘Forgotten Middle’

Eaton’s CEO, David Smart, recently wrote an article for the Colorado Real Estate Journal. 

You can read the article below: 

The “forgotten middle” refers to middle-income seniors who make too much money to qualify for subsidized housing and too little to afford a high-end retirement community. There is an astounding number of individuals who fall into this category and many more to follow soon. This is not a surprise. However, this underserved population has not been the focus of aging services providers and housing developers. That’s changing as the numbers grow, as identified in a report published in April by the National Investment Center. You can request this report at www.nic.org. I take the report as a call to action.

We are entering a critical time for the forgotten middle. The explosion in this demographics is before us. Finding solutions for this crisis is one of our nation’s most pressing needs. In the housing world, the challenges of developing housing for these renters are similar to developing workforce housing. Most projects won’t pencil out due to the lower rents needed to serve these populations and the high cost of land and construction.

After almost 40 years serving seniors (the last 17 in affordable housing), I’ve experienced a lot. The “silent generation” is passing away and is being replaced by the boomer generation. The “silents” are mostly grateful and appreciative of what is provided for them in the housing choices they have and the services/amenities that are provided. The boomers are much more demanding. It’s not that they aren’t grateful, but they do not hesitate to ask for what they want. For the majority, it’s champagne tastes on a beer budget. This new consumer requires us to redefine senior living and offer a wide variety of housing choices. Now is the time for innovation. Dr. Bill Thomas, the creator of the Eden Alternative and the Green House model, has a new brainchild, Minka. Minka designs, prefabricates and delivers sensibly sized kit homes that can stand alone, act as accessory dwelling units or be combined to develop pocket neighborhoods. These homes are cost-effective and have the flexibility to be modified easily over time as an individual ages.

Other opportunities are being explored. For example, there is much discussion about colleges that are closing and the possibility that dorms/ buildings be utilized to provide senior or workforce housing. Also being considered is partnering with religious institutions that have vacant land and are willing to donate land in support of a shared mission. Renovation of vacant or unused buildings is generally more cost-effective than new construction.

Congregate living is not for everyone, but it is recognized as one of the better ways to serve the most people. Lobbying for government support is critical. There are avenues of support through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and low-income housing tax credits that help build affordable housing, but no funds for supporting construction of housing that is affordable for middle-income seniors (or workforce). You may think middle-income people have more money and/or they aren’t that desperate. For many, that is just not the case.

As you can see on the table, while the yearly income difference is $26,000 for a renter who makes 60% AMI versus 100% AMI, the net income difference is only $1,760 a year. The point being many middle-income seniors are dealing with the same challenges as low-income seniors because they don’t qualify for subsidies.

I recently participated in an AARPHUD Innovation Roundtable in Washington, D.C. The purpose of this group was to identify potential solutions and opportunities to address the challenges housing and other providers are facing as they integrate supportive services to enhance health and well-being for low-income older adults within their communities. The roundtable was focused on low-income seniors and affordable housing. However, the focus on bringing supportive services on site is apropos to middle-income seniors as well. Developers should be mindful to plan for common space that will support a wide variety of service offerings, which should include a case manager or social worker and a director of wellness. The “new” model for congregate senior housing provides a service-rich environment and becomes the center of health care for the residents.

As an operator of affordable housing for low- and middle-income seniors, my goal is always to enable residents to “finish well” or spend their remaining years as they choose. How a person “finishes well” is as individual as a snowflake. By providing a wide variety of services, not just health services, but activities and opportunities for engagement that address the whole person, individuals can make their own choices on what services to use and activities to participate in. They are in control of how they “finish” and isn’t that what we all want.

You can learn more about our middle-income senior community here: https://www.eatonsenior.org/the-summit/

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