Earlier this month I toured The Stories at Congressional Plaza, a new type of “seniors housing” project designed to appeal to seniors as well as those of other ages looking for a high-tech, high-service environment in an urban mixed use setting. The Stories opened in February 2016 and is a joint effort of Federal Realty Investment Trust and Ryan Frederick’s Smart Living 360.
Federal Realty is a publicly traded REIT (NYSE: FRT) that specializes in the ownership, operation, and redevelopment of high quality retail real estate in the country’s best markets and is increasingly developing mixed-use projects in connection with its retail holdings. Ryan Frederick has long been known as one of the leading thinkers on the future of seniors housing through his Point Forward Solutions consulting company. Ryan has now created a new company, Smart Living 360, to work with a retail/mixed use developer, rather than a seniors housing company or health care REIT, to bring us his vision of the future of “seniors housing” in a property designed to appeal to seniors but open to those of all ages.
The Stories is a new 48 units apartment building located at 1628 E. Jefferson Street in Rockville, Maryland. It is part of Federal Realty’s Congressional Plaza redevelopment that includes a high-end shopping center, Federal’s corporate headquarters and an existing 150+/- unit apartment building with structured parking (The Crest), now about 10 years old. The Stories was developed on a site long designated for residential use as phase 2 of the Crest. According to Ryan, Federal became interested in consciously designing The Stories to appeal to the seniors market because they wanted a way to differentiate the projection from other high-end rental projects in the same area of the Rockville Pike, northwest of Washington and Bethesda.
The Stories is designed to appeal to the baby boomer market, now passing age 67, and other seniors with a “younger” outlook, unlikely to consider independent or assisted living or even a continuing care retirement community (CCRC). This market is large and rapidly growing and not well served by well served by conventional seniors housing. While those 75 and up are considered part of the senior housing markets in many market studies, the average entrance age for most dedicated senior housing communities is now closer to 85 than 75 (See Slow 80+ Pop Growth, Elevated Construction Spark Concern For Seniors Housing on this blog – https://robustretirement.com/?p=209.
Ryan and Smart Living 360’s vision for The Stories is derived from a view of what “younger” seniors want in a living environment to enhance their wellbeing and tries to anticipate the growing role of technology for enhancing seniors’ lifestyle and delivering the services they want and need. It is also purposefully designed to be flexible so it can adapt to the needs of its target market as they are discovered over time.
To understand what Federal and Smart Living 360 have created at The Stories, you need to think outside the traditional seniors housing box regarding design, services and technology.
Physically, The Stories is a attractive 5-story modern apartment community located in high-income, high-wealth, high-education zip code with a unit mix favoring larger 2 and 3 bedroom units (75% 2 bdrms) over one level of structured parking. With rents from $2,500 to $4,000, The Stories is priced at about half the cost per square foot of traditional IL properties in its market. But unlike conventional IL properties, The Stories does not bundle food service and activity programs into its rent. It is part of a mixed-use project including retail, office and other residential uses in a nice residential area a block off a heavily travel arterial street, the Rockville Pike, MD 355. The property faces other residential uses and fronts on a relatively quiet suburban street.
Units within The Stories look like high-end non-age-targeted residential rental units with small balconies that are designed with largely invisible accommodations for an aging senior market – wider doorways and master baths able to accommodate a wheel chair with higher toilets, easy entry showers, modest grab bars in the bath with studs behind the wall to allow more to be installed, roll out lower shelves in cabinets, electrical outlets further up on the wall, etc. These are accessible units that intentionally look like conventional units.
Common areas include a large fitness room with some specialized equipment for seniors that could also be used by personal trainers or rehab therapists, a central lounge with a refrigerator and cooking equipment and a self-serve coffee bar.
There is a small conference room that is designed so that it can also be used for a visit by a health professional or for telemedicine care. The entire building is pre-wired for high speed Verizon Fios internet with pre-installed routers; and service providers are available to install Sonos wireless speaker systems and other electronic amenities in the units. The electronics designed into the building are intended to accommodate increased use of patient self-monitoring and wellness devices that Ryan believes will become increasingly prevalent, sophisticated and integrated over time.
The building offers a secure electronic entry system, with an enhanced concierge called a Lifestyle Ambassador (services described below) manning the front desk during the day. The building is monitored in the evening by management personnel from the larger Crest Apartment building that is located at the other end of the block, across a parking lot from The Stories. The number and length of coverage by on-site personnel is partly limited by the buildings relatively small size, only 48 units.
What really sets The Stories apart as a community that will appeal to seniors is its use of a Lifestyle Ambassador, in this case a hotel industry trained and certified concierge cross-trained in seniors housing design and services. The role of the Lifestyle Ambassador is threefold – 1. Help residents connect with one another and with the outside community, 2. Provide access to any needed services, and 3. Simplify resident’s lives by taking care of pets and plants while residents are traveling and providing other services. Smart Living 360 makes use of many off-the-shelf on-demand services, has prearranged for a wide range of additional services to be available to residents of The Stories and will provide referrals to providers, including:
- Food Delivery
- Financial Advisors
- Case Managers
- Home Healthcare
- Personal Trainers
- Tech Services
The goal at The Stories is to offer attractive housing, location and services to enhance the well being of baby boomers and other “younger”, generally healthy seniors without the stigma of a traditional seniors housing community with a large percentage of very old, frail people; and to do it in a flexible way that allows it residents to order in any services they may need and to adapt to rapidly evolving technology for medical monitoring and wellness.
Smart Living 360 hopes to monitor residents of The Stories over time to see if the building’s design and the flexible services it offers will enhance residents’ well being compared to those living in other residential settings. This will be done using the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index that measures five factors:
- Purpose – Liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve goals
- Social – Having supportive relationships in your life
- Financial – Managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security
- Community – Liking where you live and having pride in your community
- Physical – Having good health and enough energy to get things done.
What is interesting to me about Smart Living 360’s approach compared to a traditional senior housing facility is that Smart Living 360’s Life Style Ambassador begins with the residents’ wishes and customizes activities and services the resident desires while a traditional senior housing facility has a menu of services into which it tries to fit a resident. I see the Smart Living 360 approach as more resident centric, more personalized and more adaptable over time.
The Stories occupies an interesting place somewhere between non-age-restricted market rate apartments and conventional seniors housing. Interestingly, the project was voluntarily described as 55+ housing in pre-opening marketing material but the developers have now decided to market its advantages for seniors but without the age restriction, which they believe may be a turn-off for their primary but not only target market. Of the first several residents moving in, two are seniors and one is age 29 but liked the amenities.
It remains to be seen whether The Stories will be successful in attracting baby boomers and other seniors with a “younger” outlook and how Ryan Frederick’s vision of meeting residents’ needs and increased use of electronic devices to monitor and enhance health and wellness will come to pass. But I believe, even at this stage, The Stories has some interesting lessons for seniors housing and multi-family developer/operators and institutional real estate investors. These include:
- Non-age restricted housing and un-senior “seniors housing”, as I categorize the Stories, may be more appealing to under 80s seniors, and even those over 80 in good health with younger outlook, than more conventional seniors housing projects. For a significant portion of the senior population today and I believe for even a larger portion of the baby boomers, living in mixed aged neighborhoods or even in mixed age buildings like The Stories may be preferable to living in a senior ghetto or in an isolated age-restricted community.
- We have already seen obsolescence in seniors housing communities, such as IL projects without sufficient provisions for handicapped residents, IL and CCRC projects without AL and memory care units, AL communities with insufficient common space for gyms or rehab care and IL and AL buildings with too many small units. This history suggests that building flexible design into seniors housing communities, which The Stories has very deliberately tried to do, may be an advantage for the community over time.
- Seniors housing located in mixed use projects or higher density urban areas, where services and amenities are close-by, while often more difficult and more expensive to develop than stand-alone conventional IL or AL communities, would seem to offer a lot of appeal for the baby boomer age cohort and other active seniors.
- In an age of on-demand services, such as Uber and Foodler, planning seniors housing around services delivered by outside vendors may prove both cost effective and better able to meet seniors desires and needs than the service packages typically available in seniors housing communities.
- Seniors, particularly the baby boomer age cohort, are increasingly tech-savvy and should be able to adapt to electronic delivery of health and wellness services, as well as other on-demand services, and may see projects designed to accommodate more high-tech amenities as more appealing than conventional care models.
- The resident centric and holistic approach to meeting resident’s needs built into the Lifestyle Ambassador approach that incorporates both social and care needs, seems to offer some advantages over the way conventional seniors housing services are organized with responsibility fragmented between healthcare, activities, dining and caregiving personnel, each of whom may only see themselves responsible for a slice of a senior’s needs. While the staff in any well managed seniors housing project should get to know the “whole resident”, making resident on-demand centric services the organizing principal of your care delivery system appears to offer some advantages and a have a better chance of assuring a residents need are met.