Multifamily Senior Housing in the Age of a Pandemic

Larkspur at Twin Creeks in Allen, Texas, offers older residents group excursions and sought-after luxury amenities that facilitate greater purpose and encourage wellness.

Perhaps fewer demographics have been affected by the pandemic quite as much as senior citizens. With senior housing being a major sector of the multifamily industry, it’s worth a look at some of the challenges that have arisen and how the industry has evolved in these unprecedented times. For contractors, developers, architects and most especially property managers, ensuring resident safety is of the utmost importance.

Understanding some of the unique challenges confronted by this segment of the population is critical as we innovate and adapt to better service this age group. While traditional concerns regarding accessibility to health care, groceries and essential supplies has been impacted by lockdowns and quarantine, new challenges around safely selling potential residents on the benefits of properties, maintaining healthy environments, as well as combating the emotional and physical effects of social isolation have really risen to the surface due to the pandemic. 

 Reevaluating Operational Needs

Firewheel Senior Living Residences in Garland, Texas, provides outdoor spaces that allow older adults greater access to their environment.

With key senior housing issues firmly in mind, the opportunity to address them is all the more important. Quality construction and beautiful design is no longer enough for these residents. Stakeholders in this industry segment must evaluate how adopting new technology, implementing new health and wellness policies, and rethinking traditional approaches to resident engagement can play a critical role in the success of their community. 

Many communities have found themselves in the unexpected position of having to both screen and limit interactions among visitors coming to visit their residents. The implementation of technology designed to facilitate the appropriate screenings and document the interactions taking place throughout the day has become a true necessity for all communities to ensure the health of their residents.

Combatting the social isolation that these limitations can lead to has become an additional challenge for these communities. Getting creative in rethinking existing common areas to create designated visitation rooms, preferably with external direct access where possible, will allow residents’ loved-ones to visit without needing to go through the development and potentially interact with other community members. In communities with more restrictive visitation policies, creating designated spaces to facilitate “window visits” or providing the technology to allow families “facetime” opportunities with their loved ones can have a huge impact in battling feelings of loneliness for residents.

Additionally, maximizing open spaces such as patios, balconies and porches while incorporating gardens, wider paths and courtyards, allows older adults greater access to their environment and can alleviate feelings of seclusion.

For obvious reasons, the features older adults and senior living developers are beginning to prioritize include touch-free technology, such as keyless entry systems, hands-free faucets, soap dispensers, light switches and automatic doors. We may also see an emergence of more voice-activated systems throughout buildings such as elevators.

Another notable improvement to be considered is higher-quality air filtration systems and UV lighting for disinfection. Developments have also increasingly chosen material finishes like antimicrobial surfaces and acrylic fabric on furnishings that inhibit microbe buildup and spread.

Meeting Senior Housing Needs

Columbia Renaissance Square Phase II will include 123 affordable senior living units for ages 62 and over.

KWA Construction is no stranger to building quality multifamily senior housing. With a growing emphasis on hospitality-like experiences as well as a focus on health, wellness and community, we continue to build developments that meet seniors’ housing needs today and in the future.

Recently completed Phase II of Columbia Renaissance Square in Fort Worth, Texas, follows a successful completion of Phase I. This latest phase consists of 123 affordable senior living units for ages 62 and over.

On-site amenities for the senior living apartments include a community room with a catering kitchen, computer center with Wi-Fi, fitness center, central laundry facility and theater for movie screenings. The community  placed special emphasis in its outdoor gathering spaces, featuring paved, tree-lined pathways for bicycling or walking as well as a landscaped gazebo for enjoying the outdoors, allowing residents an opportunity to connect with friends and family in well ventilated and easily social distanced environments. 

In 2019, KWA completed Firewheel Senior Living Residences in Garland and McDermott Park Senior Living in Plano. Firewheel is a luxury senior living facility that offers high-end amenities such as a state-of-the-art fitness center, salon and saltwater pool. McDermott is a luxury active adult community featuring spacious units and upgraded amenities which include a heated saltwater pool, fitness center, high-tech computer center, theater, coffee bar and indoor and outdoor lounge areas.

To help residents feel more comfortable in the environments noted above, the property has taken steps to upgrade air filtration systems and implement enhanced cleaning protocols so residents could continue to enjoy spaces safely. They have had to adapt their leasing approach to include video and phone interviews, as well as offering live video tours of the property so potential residents can experience the amenities of the facility while still feeling safe in their current environment.

Looking Ahead

Though this is an unprecedented time for all, senior citizens are perhaps the most affected and therefore require greater care when we address the specific concerns of their segment. By understanding the design trends stimulated by the pandemic and utilizing technology, materials and layout strategy that best accommodate them, we can build quality senior living housing communities that prioritize health while not compromising on comfort and social wellness. With this in mind, we are encouraged to see the steps being taken within the industry at large to continue to prioritize and improve the lives of older adults.