How Affordable Communities Can Keep Senior Residents Engaged
Wendover's Ricardo Alicea believes that resident care goes well beyond affordability. Here's what property managers can learn from his approach.
More than 80 million people in the U.S. will be over 65 years old by 2040, with that number growing to nearly 95 million by 2060, according to U.S. Census Bureau projections. And each one of these individuals will have different, unique needs and wants when it comes to choosing a senior housing facility.
To cater to residents’ changing requirements, management staff should constantly look for ways to help them feel comfortable in their surroundings, engage them in entertaining activities and help them maintain a high level of independence, according to Ricardo Alicea, director of asset and property management with Wendover Housing Partners. The affordable and workforce housing company develops and funds senior housing projects across the Southeast, with a focus on Central Florida.
“With rising housing costs across the nation, more seniors are looking for affordable housing options,” Alicea told Multi-Housing News. “When it comes to seniors, we know resident care goes well beyond affordability.”
What else can property managers do to aid and engage their senior residents? Alicea shares what works in Wendover’s communities and explains why it is crucial to pay attention to details.
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What can you tell us about your company’s senior affordable housing portfolio? What elements are at the forefront of affordable housing development?
Alicea: Wendover has completed four senior affordable housing developments in Central Florida: Brixton Landing—80 units in Apopka; Burlington Cove—68 units in Sanford; Hawthorne Park—120 units in Pine Hills; and Heritage Village Commons—123 units in Longwood.
Wendover also developed additional senior affordable communities across the state, including Haley Park in Tampa, Kenwood Place in Tallahassee, Marcis Pointe in Jacksonville, and The Landings at Seaforest in New Port Richey.
All of our completed senior affordable communities have 100 percent occupancy. We also have two more projects—Fulham Terrace and Rochester Park—that we expect to deliver in 2023.
Generally, affordable developers should not be skimping on the little things. From larger windows for more natural light to walk-in closets for seniors to prevent strain and injury, attention to detail goes a long way.
Most of your senior housing portfolio is concentrated in Florida, but do you plan on entering new markets in the immediate future? If so, which ones and why?
Alicea: We develop communities all across the Southeast. However, with our headquarters in Central Florida, we do focus on affordable housing at a local level. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s 2022 GAP report, the Orlando metro area only has 18 affordable and available homes per 100 extremely low-income renters.
We like to keep all our projects close to maintain the personal connection throughout the development process and beyond.
What are some best practices that you recommend to senior housing property managers to increase retention rates and keep their residents engaged?
Alicea: Property managers must communicate with their residents. This means listening to their concerns and coming up with solutions to their problems. Property managers should take the time to get to know residents personally, practice empathy and tend to each resident’s unique needs. They want to feel like a person, not a transaction.
Engagement is also important. In their older years, you can expect many seniors to be spending more time at home, so communities should provide amenities and activities to keep residents entertained.
Please tell us more about the community amenities that your senior residents are most interested in today.
Alicea: Community amenities are an important way to engage residents and increase their quality of life. Senior residents get a lot of use out of community pools. As swimming is not weight-bearing, it is easy on joints. We often hold water aerobics and Zumba classes in the pool to help seniors get healthy exercise without putting too much pressure on their hips, knees or spine.
Another important on-site amenity for seniors is the salon. Easy access to a salon in the community clubhouse lets residents meet all their personal styling and beauty needs without ever having to leave home.
Theater rooms in the clubhouse allow residents to mingle and watch films together.
What type of activities do you engage your residents in? Please share some tips for other property managers.
Alicea: Forming relationships with local vendors and community members is helpful for planning activities to engage residents. At Brixton Landing, we recently coordinated free pizzas for residents, donated by a local Pizza Hut, a Zumba event sponsored by United Healthcare and a bingo night held by Senior Medical Center.
Game and movie nights are always a fun way for residents to get to know each other. Food is another way to bring residents together. We like to bring in popcorn and snow cone machines for movie nights to encourage attendance, and we bring in doughnut and coffee trucks to surprise residents when we can. Barbecues, especially during hot summer months, get residents excited, too.
Health care is extremely important to senior housing residents. Is there any way property managers can contribute to improving their residents’ health? What do you do at your communities?
Alicea: It’s extremely vital for senior residents to be educated on their health. At our communities, we bring in local health-care providers to conduct seminars and fairs in order to educate residents on their health. These providers discuss subjects such as health signs to monitor or care and treatment options. Residents can bring up any concerns they have and ask questions.
Demand for affordable senior housing communities has only increased in the past few years. What are your expectations going forward?
Alicea: The demand for affordable housing is strong, especially for seniors. This will only increase in the coming years. The affordable housing crisis continues to worsen as inflation increases the cost of living across the country. In Central Florida, a recent study conducted at the request of Orlando’s Orange County Board of County Commissioners found that rents across Orange County rose roughly 25 percent last year—a problem stemming from years of inadequate housing production.
The affordable housing crisis is a complex issue, but most can agree that we need more affordable options. Wendover plans to continue building affordable communities for seniors and other demographics. Every affordable development built serves as a catalyst for more.