Meeting House at Stow is the community’s first senior living community for retirees who are mostly independent but may need some support services.

The senior housing that’s currently being developed in Stow is not an active adult community and certainly not an assisted living facility.

The Meeting House at Stow, 61 for-sale one- and two-bedroom condominiums off Route 117, falls somewhere in between those two categories.

The independent senior living community is geared for people between the ages of 65 and 85 who are mostly capable of caring for themselves but want the security and convenience of on-site support services should they need them.

While similar retirement communities sprung up in towns like Lincoln and Scituate about a decade ago, very few within the Route 128 and Interstate 495 belt have come on line recently, according to Meeting House developers.

That’s because recently developers have focused on developing so-called active adult communities for people 55 and over. In the past several years, there has also been a push to create assisted living facilities with more comprehensive care, or age-in-place communities that combine independent and assisted living units.

Meeting House at Stow fits in neither of those categories, explained developer Harry H. Blackey, founder of Creative Housing Co. in West Acton.

Unlike an assisted living facility where units are rented and residents have access to full on-site medical care and meal programs, the Meeting House will have units that will be sold, while a dining program and full medical services are not part of the package.

And unlike active adult communities with townhouses and common areas scattered throughout acres of property, the Meeting House consists of only one building.

At Meeting House, which is being developed through a joint venture established by Creative Housing, Acton-based The Land Collaborative and Bridgestone Assoc. in Concord, the condominiums will feature fully equipped kitchens and living rooms. Selling prices range from $179,000 to the mid-$300,000s. Monthly fees of approximately $375 will pay for heat, water and sewage disposal, building maintenance and insurance.

The fees will also pay for common area utilities and a health wellness program that will be run by Emerson Hospital at an on-site, two-room medical suite. Residents can schedule appointments to meet with Emerson medical staff that will visit once a week or once every other week, explained Blackey.

All the common areas, including a mailroom, exercise room and dining room, and the two-room medical suite, will be located in the same building as the condominium units.

In many instances this building will be occupied by widows or widowers who are living in single-family homes or traditional townhouses and no longer want to deal with the upkeep of their properties, said Blackey.

Supply and Demand
According to housing experts, a fair amount of assisted living facilities have been built recently – more so than independent living communities.

It’s generally true that assisted living development has been the big trend over the last few years. However, that’s slowed down because vacancies went up during the last two or three years, said Andrew Kochera, senior policy advisor for AARP’s Public Policy Institute.

This type of [independent senior] housing can really fill a niche for those older people who many not need personal care but may be looking for housing where it may be easier to age in place, said Kochera.

According to housing statistics, independent living communities currently have lower vacancy rates than assisted living units. A recently updated report done for the National Investment Council for the Seniors Housing and Care Industries in Annapolis, Md., also shows there will be a greater demand for independent senior housing in the next five years.

The report, The Case for Investing in Seniors Housing and Long-Term Care Properties, was done by PricewaterhouseCoopers and shows there will be a demographic bulge of people in their 60s – people who typically seek independent living communities.

The results make sense, according to NIC’s Research Director Harvey Singer, who explained that the average age that people enter into more intense care-oriented housing is 85. Baby boomers won’t be in that age group until about 20 years from now, but in only a few years they will be in the prime age group to be seeking out independent care communities, he said.

Blackey said there are some signs that there may be too many assisted living facilities, but the market will eventually catch up.

It’s possible that the assisted living facility supply got ahead of the demand a little bit, he said.

Part of it has to do with the fact that there is a high turnover rate in assisted living housing and the empty units constantly have to be remarketed, said Blackey.

Further, the costs of assisted living for residents are high, although that type of facility was developed as a lower-cost alternative to nursing homes. According to a recent study done by AARP – formerly the American Association of Retired Persons – most Americans are unaware of how much it costs for long-term care services like assisted living.

The national estimated median cost for assisted living per month is between $2,000 and $2,500, according to AARP.

The size of the market [of people 65 and over] is significantly large, but the number who can actually afford assisted living is significantly less, said Blackey.

In the New England region, a more recent trend has emerged for developers to build active adult communities. Those types of housing developments are more readily accepted by local communities because local leaders feel they don’t burden the school system and other services.

Because of that, there is a danger in the future that that segment could get overbuilt, acknowledged Blackey.

AARP’s Kochera said it is difficult to track and collect information on active adult communities because they are built by a variety of developers and they vary greatly in size and design.

While active adult communities are geared mostly for people between 65 and 75, independent living communities fill the gap by catering to people between 75 and 85, said Leslie Marks, executive director of the National Association of Homebuilders’ National Council on Senior’s Housing.

At the Meeting House, units are fully accessible, with wide doorways and emergency call systems. Residents will have the chance to socially interact with one another. The common dining room, for example, can be used for potluck dinners and social events. The housing is also adjacent to Stow’s central village shopping area. A pedestrian path on the 14-acre site leads directly to the shopping center that features a grocery store, restaurants, pharmacy, post office and cleaners.

Construction started last August and already half of the units have been sold or are under purchase and sale agreements. Blackey said the housing should be complete by this August.

About a year ago, a development similar to the Meeting House was built in Wayland and was quickly filled up. According to Blackey, independent living units are also slated to be constructed in North Acton as part of an age-in-place campus that also features townhouses for active adults and assisted living units.

Stow Development Finds Niche Between Active, Assisted Living

by Banker & Tradesman time to read: 5 min