Ideas for a Maturing Industry

3 min read

This month TCA takes a deep dive into exciting and innovative strategies in the aging and senior housing space. The physical and lifestyle needs of baby boomers will continue to evolve and the affordable housing industry must develop plans to meet their requirements today and 20 years from now. Responding effectively to this demographic wave will require more than just changing our marketing plans and rethinking amenities – not only are our existing and prospective residents aging but so are the buildings we own and manage, the subsidy programs we rely on, and indeed our very colleagues and companies.

We must be strategic and develop a comprehensive set of solutions to meet all of the needs and thus ensure that the work we do today will be sustained for generations to come.

Designing for the Long Term
Developers can benefit from considering current and future accessibility needs in their upfront design. I believe there will be a competitive advantage down the line for those that design adaptable units and common space that can meet the needs of today’s residents and also be cost effectively adapted for tomorrow’s. Today’s active boomer may have significantly different needs 10 or 15 years from now. If these can be predicted and planned for, future capital infusions can be directed to the replacement of major systems rather than structural changes necessary to help residents age in place.

Rethinking How We Preserve
As the portfolio of affordable housing matures, so must preservation policy and resources. Not all buildings can or should last forever – systems age, design standards change, and at some point every property will reach an inflection point where the owner must determine whether it makes sense to rehab or replace. This is not a theoretical problem: public housing authorities and owners of historic properties have been grappling with it for years and soon (though hopefully not too soon) they will be joined by owners of Section 8 and RD-515 properties.

As buildings reach functional or design obsolescence, it is critical that there be policy pathways that facilitate the preservation of the subsidy and the underlying affordability. Policy tools, like RAD and 8bb transfers, are a good first step, but additional resources will be necessary if we are to preserve all existing affordable units while adding new ones. Furthermore, we need to have serious discussions and build greater consensus on how assistance should be transferred, to what neighborhoods, and even for what sorts of properties. Should we commit to build anew? Is there value in transferring subsidies to existing buildings? When is it appropriate to transfer rental assistance to properties that are already income restricted? These are not easy questions to answer but ones we will increasingly face in the public policy realm.

Leading from Within
I know this isn’t the case, but it sometimes feels like no one in our industry ever retires. This makes perfect sense to me – why leave a profession at an arbitrary age if you are doing something that is so socially, emotionally, intellectually and financially rewarding? Furthermore, we benefit greatly from the continuity of leadership. The boom in the TEB market these past few years were driven in part by repurposing a financial structure from the HOPE VI days. Our success in expanding the LIHTC, now in its 30th year, has been greatly aided by leaders with long-term and hard-earned relationships on the Hill. But it behooves us to invest in the best and brightest and help transfer knowledge and relationships to a new generation of leaders if we hope to sustain this industry for the next 30 years.