New buildings, new lifestyles
“I was all by myself in a big house,” said Don Smith, 87. The Korean War veteran saw his neighbor’s air conditioning fail, holding comfort hostage for $12,000 in repairs.
Smith, seeking a residence he didn’t have to maintain, signed a lease at The Lofts at Glenwood Place last month. There, residents live like apartment dwellers but with access to housekeeping. They can add a la carte services, such as meals or transportation.
Independent living, as that model is called, is the first rung of elder care services. The next step is assisted living facilities, which have more staff on hand to help with daily activities — everything from showering to eating to managing medication. There is also memory care for residents with dementia.
Built two years ago, The Lofts is one of the newer facilities in Clark County. But its 83 units are about to be joined by four more facilities totaling 515 units.
In Camas, the 120-unit The Terrace at River Oaks will open on Third Avenue. It’s the city’s first new senior-based development in a while. Developer Dennis Pavlina and Carmen Villarma, who’s president of The Management Group, are also building a 95-unit facility in Salmon Creek. Previously, they built a 55-and-older community in Battle Ground called The Crossings.
“That one leased up so quickly. It was phenomenal,” Villarma said. “The market is good.”
She said they don’t sell the properties they build. Those 55 and older are reliable long-term tenants; turnover is low and rents are rarely paid late.
A 160-unit complex from Bonaventure Senior Living is going up near Padden Parkway and Northeast 94th Avenue. It will boast amenities including a full-service pub and two bowling lanes.
“Market demand for senior housing continues to rise due to the senior population increasing at a faster rate than new construction,” Grandt Mansfield, Bonaventure’s director of marketing, said in an email. “Vancouver is a great market for senior housing as it is the regional economic and population center for Southwest Washington.”
In east Vancouver, the 140-unit Springwood Landing is expected to open in April. Developer Hawthorn Retirement Group said it is already 80 percent booked. President Art Hassler said that speaks more to the demand of local residents aged 75 and older, which will rise as baby boomers reach that age.
“The real spike won’t come for five or six years,” he said. “We’ll continue to see those demographics get better in the next five to six years.”
Is there enough?
Whether there will be enough housing supply to handle that spike is another question. Elder care companies say they face the same hurdles faced by commercial developers and homebuilders, namely the lack of developable land and the rising costs of construction.
Even if those buildings get built, others worry that it won’t address the large share of seniors who can’t afford $2,000 monthly rents. Newer facilities are booking up, but Vancouver Housing Authority’s buildings for low-income senior already have thousands of people on waiting lists.
“Are we building enough space for the boom of the population? It’s pretty obvious,” said David Kelly, executive director of the Area Agency on Aging & Disabilities of Southwest Washington.
Seniors don’t always have to live in such facilities, nor do they want to. According to the National Aging in Place Council, 90 percent of older adults prefer to stay in their homes rather than move to a senior facility. Officials say that is partly why Vancouver, the oldest-skewing city in Clark County, recently made it easier to build accessory dwelling units — also known as granny flats.
The units “can be a good option for families who are interested in providing a small unit for their aging parent where they can live independently but in close proximity,” said Economic Development Director Chad Eiken in an email. He noted that getting to the doctor’s office or the grocery store from some neighborhoods isn’t always easy.
“We are actively focusing on strengthening sidewalk connections to business districts that are in close proximity to single-family neighborhoods in order to make it easier for people to ‘stay put’ as they age,” he said.
Ridgefield, the youngest-skewing city in Clark County, lacks large-scale senior living facilities. However, the city council recently adopted a program to encourage construction of green homes and more “visitable” homes for older and disabled people. Using guidelines from the Clark County Commission on Aging, builders can get up to 20 percent of their building permit fees back if they include features such as no-step entryways, lever door handles, wide hallways and more.
For a typical 2,500-square-foot home with a three-car garage, that could amount to a $600 refund, said Community Development Director Jeff Niten.
Troy Johns with Urban NW Homes said he’s planning to take advantage of both incentives. His company is known for its green building certified homes, but he said constructing visitable homes follows that same ethos.
“Nothing is less sustainable than a remodel,” he said.