Now is the Time for Senior Housing Decision

Hard-hit communities offering great deals and discounts but supply will tighten as economy recovers.

By SHARE

If you've been thinking about making a move into retirement housing, now is a great time to get serious about the decision. Whether you want to live independently in a retirement community, need an assisted living facility, or want more extensive support in a nursing home, it's a buyer's market today. The recession has forced even high-end communities to offer wide-ranging discounts and inducements to attract residents. At the same time, this softness won't last forever. And when conditions improve, the pent-up consumer demand will reveal serious shortages of high-quality senior housing.

[See Best Affordable Places to Retire.]

The development of new housing units for older residents has pretty much been stopped in its tracks during this downturn. Potential residents have been squeezed by declines in their retirement investments and their biggest nest eggs -- their homes -- have either been cracked or broken by the collapse of the housing market in many parts of the country. On the development side, this weak demand has deterred new construction but so has the disappearance of credit to finance new building.

Meanwhile, of course, the supply of older persons continues to grow. Maybe our healthcare system is financially bloated and does not deliver the best care for the money. But that hasn't stopped older people from living longer and longer. Although there has been a surge in efforts to assist people to stay in their homes as they age, soaring numbers of aging Americans will eventually need institutionalized care. And the living units will be increasingly in short supply. Now may just be the best time to make the move.

Having said that, it can be hard to find the best facility for you or a family member. Nursing homes are regulated and licensed by individual states. However, Medicaid pays for many people in nursing homes, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services provides a comparative tool to assess the quality of nursing homes around the country. This tool has been enhanced by U.S. News for its America's Best Nursing Homes rankings.

There is no such comparative tool for assisted living, continuing care retirement communities, and other facilities. There isn't even a set of national definitions for the types of services that are offered in these various facilities. State and local rules differ. Some communities are operated by non-profits while others are looking to make attractive profits for their owners.

There is a big range of costs and services, so the best approach is to have a very clear idea of exactly what you want, and then search for the communities that meet those specific needs. Several sites have online directors of senior living communities, including Gilbert Guide, Seniors for Living, and SeniorOutlook.com. Sites may be paid for home listings and endorsements, so make sure you understand that you may not be seeing the entire inventory of available facilities.

[See Best Places to Retire.]

The current issue of Health Affairs has an overview of the market for assisted living facilities. They  generally can be found in more affluent communities. The overview includes a table showing how many large (25 units and up) complexes are in each state and the ratio of such living units to each state's population of people aged 65 and up:
 

Assisted Living Spaces in the United States*
State Facilities Units Ave. Units Density
         
Alabama 116 6,502 56 11
Alaska 11 750 68 20
Arizona 168 14,759 88 19
Arkansas 92 5,022 55 13
California 1,034 120,406 116 31
Colorado 164 10,852 66 23
Connecticut 39 1,752 45 4
Delaware 27 1,841 68 16
Florida 780 61,301 79 20
Georgia 254 15,554 61 17
Hawaii 7 249 36 2
Idaho 69 4,295 62 26
Illinois 255 15,651 61 10
Indiana 305 24,530 80 31
Iowa 192 12,451 65 29
Kansas 191 9,346 49 26
Kentucky 163 9,198 56 17
Louisiana 72 4,781 66 9
Maine 118 5,503 47 29
Maryland 147 10,980 75 19
Massachusetts 163 11,364 70 13
Michigan 182 14,650 80 12
Minnesota 687 65,069 95 104
Mississippi 72 3,653 51 10
Missouri 314 16,740 53 23
Montana 43 2,653 62 21
Nebraska 156 8,569 55 37
Nevada 50 3,730 75 14
New Hampshire 55 3,256 59 20
New Jersey 197 17,710 90 16
New Mexico 61 3,914 64 17
New York 402 37,145 92 15
North Carolina 490 34,425 70 32
North Dakota 50 2,522 50 27
Ohio 483 37,888 78 25
Oklahoma 152 8,708 57 18
Oregon 323 20,535 64 43
Pennsylvania 903 62,531 69 33
Rhode Island 49 3,623 74 24
South Carolina 211 13,485 64 24
South Dakota 47 2,090 44 19
Tennessee 228 13,489 59 18
Texas 507 36,061 71 16
Utah 61 4,135 68 19
Vermont 34 1,501 44 19
Virginia 370 29,103 79 46
Washington 397 25,053 63 34
West Virginia 36 2,052 57 7
Wisconsin 330 17,155 52 24
Wyoming 19 1,214 64 19
U.S. total 11,276 839,746 74.5 22.9
         
*As of 2007. Only facilities with 25 or more units are included.  Density is the number of units per 1,000 persons in each state aged 65 and older. Source: Health Affairs.

Minnesota is far and away the most well stocked state in terms of assisted living facilities, and has nearly five times the national average, expressed as a percentage of persons aged 65 and up. Virginia and Oregon posted about twice the national average, and other well-represented states were Nebraska, Washington, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. Hawaii, Connecticut, West Virginia, and Louisiana, by contrast, all were well under half the national average. Keep in mind that this inventory excluded facilities with fewer than 25 living units. Some states may rely more heavily on small assisted living complexes.

[See Senior Communities Cope With Hard Times.]