Filling our Senior Housing Void: 

White Paper on Market-rate Senior Housing in Garrett County, MD

 

Abstract:  During their May 9, 2018 “Economic Planning” presentation, the Garrett County (GC) Commissioners stated a desire to explore means to develop market-rate housing in general, to include market-rate senior housing (i.e. housing for seniors with resources and the ability to pay what the area market dictates) at a yet-to-be-determined location(s).

The greatest housing concentration (according to the 2008 GC Comprehensive Plan) appears to coincide with the largest concentration of consumer retail, services, and professional skills (medical and otherwise) offered within Garrett County.  This “Central US-219 Corridor” extends from US-219 between Oakland and McHenry, MD.  This area is generally bounded by Route 495 (to the east), the Little Youghiogheny River (to the south), the Youghiogheny River (to the west), and a line from the Youghiogheny River to Route 495 drawn through the intersection of US-219 and route 42 (to the north).   While most of the year-round housing in this area is concentrated within the greater-Oakland area, people have come to Deep Creek Lake for summers and vacations since its founding in 1926.  Over the years many of those people eventually built cabins and homes before deciding to make this area their “permanent” retirement home. 

 

Both life-time residents and retirees eventually reach the point when they cannot keep-up with homes which were not built to be senior friendly.  As the Baby Boomers continue to age, a shortage of senior friendly market-rate housing has arisen in Garrett County.   Local Realtors® report how clients (often former vacationers) regularly ask about senior friendly housing options.  Realtors® generally suggest how they can look for “ranchers” or other structures that can be easily modified across the county.  These same Realtors® report they are commonly forced to acknowledge that there is no intentional age-friendly designed housing closer than approximately 45-minute drive of Deep Creek Lake.

 

Problem Statement:    As a rural area of Maryland, Garrett County does not easily attract the interest of senior housing developers who traditionally concentrate their efforts in the more densely populated areas of the Mid-Atlantic; however, an un-met need for additional age qualified housing in our region is believed to exist. This un-met need will increase as more Garrett County households “age-up” into the 65+ cohort.  This population has been and will continue to be forced to move out of our area in order to obtain senior friendly market rate housing.  This “out-migration” is expected to continue unless additional age-qualified housing can be developed.  There is a severe shortage of market-rate senior housing in Garrett County, especially for those who want to live independently but cannot keep up with the maintenance and upkeep required by “mountaintop” homeownership.  There is a need for an “age-in-place” community which would include either single-level and/or elevator-supported apartment living with large doors, technology enhanced infrastructure, appropriate age-related safety features, and a Residential Service Agency to assist residents who are 55 years or older.

Background:  As shown during the May 2018 Commissioners Economic Develop presentation, Garrett County’s population has a growing number of 65+ households in Garrett County. 

 

As a local Evangelical Lutheran Church of America Pastor, I can speak to many experiences, including those of my ecumenical and non-denominational colleagues, of losing parishioners while they were still healthy, after concluding a move to an “age-in-place” community (e.g. Pittsburgh, PA; Baltimore, MD; Washington, DC; Winchester, VA; or Lancaster, PA areas) was necessary before their health declined.

 

Unless a ranch style house goes on the market or people chose to live in the limited capacity of “Cottages” located at the Goodwill Retirement Community in Grantsville, there are no other senior friendly independent market-rate living options in Garrett County.  Unless someone moves to Goodwill in Grantsville or Cherry Hill in Accident, both of which have limited capacity, there are no assisted living market-rate communities in the southern half of the county.  While skilled nursing is available in either the Oakland/Mountain Lake Park area or in Grantsville, there is only one limited “age-in place” community located within Garrett County.  Unfortunately, Goodwill (in Grantsville) is located opposite from and at great distance from the county’s center of effort for economic and post-secondary/continuing education activity in Garrett County. 

 

After hearing how previous initiatives had failed to get off the ground due to concerns over who would operate such a community, an informal group of area professionals (medical personnel, accountants, realtors, builders, etc.) and interested community members started talking about the need to improve Garrett County’s “age-in-place” options.  While working on how to proceed, we were introduced to the CEO (Jill Schumann) of Leading Age Maryland (the Maryland partner for the national not-for-profit association Leading Age). Jill Schumann introduced us to the CEO of Diakon Lutheran Social Ministries and Diakon Child, Family & Community Ministries who, among other things, oversees the full-range of senior housing communities spread across Pennsylvania and Maryland.  After several conversations, discussions, and exchanges, Diakon’s CEO (Mark Pile) agreed to provide advice for and to participate in an exploratory effort to develop a new “age-in-place” community within the greater Oakland/McHenry area. 

 

Both Diakon and Garrett County Community Action (GCCA) advised that any effort to increase “age-in-place” or senior market rate housing in Garrett County would require the professional services of an experienced market research consultant.  As private, nonprofit charitable, 501(c)(3) corporations, both Diakon and GCCA confirmed the requirement for a third-party study to validate any proposed market-rate housing requirements (senior or otherwise), and to obtain the additional information required to attract developers and investors for any such effort.  While GCCA has a wealth of experience with subsidized housing and growing experience in market-rate efforts, they have little “senior” market-rate housing experience.  After consulting with Garret County Planning and Zoning officials and introducing the concept to our County Commissioners, we were advised to develop a presentation for the Garrett County Commissioners.   GCCA CEO (Duane Yoder) and the group asked Diakon to provide at least three experienced senior market-rate housing consultants who could evaluate our requirement and (if validated) provide all required data. 

Market research consultants generally provide two levels of evaluation for market-rate housing assessments.  The first or “Preliminary Study” is used to validate the nature of a housing requirement and to provide the basic data needed to support or deny the same.  Assuming a valid demand is found, then a second level study or “Full Study” is typically used to gauge actual interest and to define the services and price points likely to succeed.

After contacting two market research companies GCCA was familiar with, both firms subsequently stated how they were not qualified to provide a senior market-rate housing study.  Diakon was able to provide three market research firms and points of contact who were qualified to provide the needed analysis.  After much back and forth discussion, the following three firms provided proposals as abbreviated below (proposals attached):

1) Baker Tilly out of Philadelphia, PA

  • The Senior Services division of “a top 15* full-service accounting and advisory firm”

  • Baseline Study (includes both a preliminary and full studies simultaneously)          $11,000-$13,000

 

2) CliftonLarsonAllen out of Plymouth Meeting, PA

  • The Senior housing division of “a professional services firm delivering integrated wealth advisory, outsourcing, audit, tax and consulting”

  • Preliminary Study:           $5,000

  • Full Study:                       $15,000 -20,000

 

3) Sage Age Strategies (Sage Age) out of Montoursville, PA

  • Specializes “in strategic marketing and business growth designed to help the senior living and senior care industries stimulate sales in existing markets, while establishing a presence in new ones”

  • Preliminary Study:           $2,500

  • Full Study:                       $5,000 (their preliminary study must have validated need)

 

Solution:  Since this market-rate senior housing effort has been being organized by a group of Garret County residents which holds no intrinsic resources, we request the Garrett County Commissioners select and approve funding for both a preliminary and possible full or “Baseline” study for a community (or communities) to be located within the “Central US-219 Corridor.”  Based upon proposed costs, we suggest that the CliftonLarsonAllen proposal be eliminated.  GCCA suggests that while the Baker Tilly proposal is more expensive (especially compared to the cost of a competitor’s preliminary study if the need for market rate senior housing is not validated) that it could carry more prestige/weight for some developers or investors.  Due to their timely response and engagement, Sage Age is very interested in performing a fact-based assessment of our “age-in place” need.  Based upon assurances they can provide the same level of detail required for less cost, request Garrett County Commissioners approve a Preliminary Study by Sage Age for $2,500, with the understanding that an additional $5,000 may be needed to complete a subsequent “Full Study.” 

 

Conclusion:  The Sage Age proposal will enable Garrett County to validate and potentially to define the nature of a new senior market-rate or “age-in-place” community.  Having a research study from an experienced consultant will provide better data/information which can help us attract interest from developers and investors who may consider undertaking a project in Garrett County.   Without such data, the County can only rely upon basic demographic and anecdotal information.  Anecdotal data makes it difficult to demonstrate the size or type of senior market-rate housing Garrett County needs to fill our senior market-rate housing void.

Seeking the services of an experienced senior market-rate housing market research consultant, such a Sage Age, will be critically important to any early planning efforts.  Sage Age can more precisely demonstrate current and projected demographic trends for our 65+ and older age cohorts and can also use proven demographic models to estimate our future need for additional age qualified housing.  This same modeling can also indicate senior market-rate need by income level, along with potential wait-list data.

Rev. Richard T. Egtvedt
February 8, 2019

© 2019 by Shepherd of the Hills.

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