New York’s lux­ury se­nior-liv­ing tow­ers open to Covid-era re­al­ity

BusinessMirror - - Our Time -

BY the end of the year, New York City will get three posh as­sisted-liv­ing tow­ers of­fer­ing se­niors spa treat­ments, gourmet meals and chauf­feured rides along with their daily care.

The projects were built on a bet that a surg­ing pop­u­la­tion of wealthy el­ders would pay hefty sums—start­ing around $13,000 a month in Man­hat­tan—to stay near their grown chil­dren, in a vi­brant ur­ban cen­ter, when they could no longer live alone. Then Covid-19 up­ended it all. The virus, which dis­pro­por­tion­ately harms the el­derly, spread quickly through se­nior-care fa­cil­i­ties across the coun­try. In­door so­cial events, such as wine tast­ings and other high­lights of as­sisted liv­ing, have be­come un­ten­able. The adult off­spring of po­ten­tial ten­ants haven’t yet re­turned to their Mid­town of­fices and may even have moved to the sub­urbs. With Broad­way shut­tered and cul­tural at­trac­tions at min­i­mal ca­pac­ity, the city’s vigor, and the top rents it helps com­mand, is in­def­i­nitely on hold.

“New York re­ally needs to be hum­ming for this to work,” said John Kim, an an­a­lyst at BMO Cap­i­tal Mar­kets who cov­ers Well­tower Inc., co-de­vel­oper of Sun­rise at East 56th, set to open in Novem­ber. “I think it’s go­ing to be very chal­leng­ing to lease it up.”

Just be­fore the pan­demic, as­sisted- liv­ing fa­cil­i­ties in Man­hat­tan reached record oc­cu­pancy of 96 per­cent, the re­sult of high de­mand paired with a 15- year pe­riod when not a sin­gle new unit was built, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional In­vest­ment Cen­ter for Se­niors Hous­ing & Care.

The virus abruptly changed the equa­tion. Dur­ing the sec­ond quar­ter, when New York was locked down, oc­cu­pancy fell to 88 per­cent, the low­est since 2010. A mora­to­rium on move-ins, in the city and na­tion­wide, meant res­i­dents who left, passed away or moved into higher lev­els of care couldn’t be re­placed.

“Cer­tainly, it could take a lit­tle longer for the area to ab­sorb that new prod­uct along with the de­cline in oc­cu­pancy that the pan­demic had wrought,” said Lana Peck, a se­nior prin­ci­pal at the Mary­land-based non­profit.

New York’s lux­ury se­nior tow­ers, where res­i­dents pay com­pletely out of pocket for perks and modern de­sign ri­val­ing the city’s glitzi­est condo tow­ers, were a new con­cept in 2016 when the first two ground-up projects were an­nounced. With sales of high-end apart­ments slack­en­ing, and de­mo­graph­ics point­ing to a “sil­ver tsunami” of ag­ing boomers, de­vel­op­ers sensed a new op­por­tu­nity.

Hu­man con­nec­tion

“SE­NIORS de­serve to have op­tions and not have se­nior liv­ing be an af­ter­thought,” said Bevin Lit­tle­hale, a New York-based man­ag­ing di­rec­tor at Hines, Well­tower’s part­ner on the East 56th Street pro­ject, which will be op­er­ated by Sun­rise Se­nior Liv­ing.

Open­ing such a prop­erty dur­ing a pan­demic has its chal­lenges, but as­sisted liv­ing can re­duce the iso­la­tion that se­niors are feel­ing as the virus keeps vis­i­tors away, ac­cord­ing to Jenifer Salamino, chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer at Sun­rise. Even so­cially dis­tanced ac­tiv­i­ties pro­vide some hu­man con­nec­tion, she said.

“We have a full din­ing staff, house­keep­ing staff, 24-hour door­man and there will be 24- hour nurses,” Salamino said, adding that some ac­tiv­i­ties, like art projects, can be brought into res­i­dents’ rooms. “When you are home alone, some peo­ple don’t even have a home health aide—they are lit­er­ally alone.”

The part­ners wouldn’t dis­close how many of the build­ing’s 151 apart­ments have been leased, but said 95 per­cent of in­quiries have been from New York­ers al­ready liv­ing nearby. Monthly rents start at $13,750 for as­sisted liv­ing and $21,000 for mem­ory- care units.

Virus safety

COVID pro­to­cols will guide life at the se­nior tow­ers for the fore­see­able fu­ture. On Man­hat­tan’s Up­per East Side, Omega Health­care In­vestors Inc. and Maple­wood Se­nior Liv­ing have in­stalled air pu­ri­fiers and ul­tra­vi­o­let light san­i­tiz­ers at their tower, called In­spir.

Res­i­dents will be screened daily for symp­toms, wear masks in com­mon ar­eas, and events, like an im­prov com­edy class or guided tour of the bor­oughs, will hap­pen on­line.

The prop­erty—promis­ing a bar with sig­na­ture cock­tails, a the­ater and a Mercedes chauf­feur ser­vice —is await­ing fi­nal ap­proval by the state health depart­ment and could open by early Novem­ber. De­posits have been placed for 75 of the In­spir’s 215 units, said Greg Smith, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Maple­wood Se­nior Liv­ing.

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