The Booming Question: Where Will Seniors Choose to Live?

With Baby Boomers reaching retirement age at a staggering rate (according to one statistic, 8,000 Baby Boomers will turn 65 years old every day this year) and members of the Silent Generation now in, or entering, their “golden years,” the demand for senior housing is expected to increase dramatically.

But a big question remains: where are members of these generations going to choose to live as they begin their senior years? Whether seniors prefer a traditional suburban senior enclave or not, Montgomery County is well-positioned to meet varied needs.

Changing Preferences

Recently, much attention has been paid to the housing choices of millennials and their overwhelming desire to live in walkable, urban environments. Baby Boomers probably will share many of these same housing and lifestyle priorities as they age. However, traditional senior housing facilities have been located in the suburbs, where large lots are more readily available and land prices are typically cheaper. With supply as an indicator, there is clearly still demand for these highly “amenitized” secluded suburban facilities.

However, there also appears to be a growing demand for facilities in more urban settings. These urban in-fill locations boast numerous benefits, such as providing senior residents with the independence that many desire long after they stop driving, increased social interaction, and opportunities for intergenerational living.

Senior Living in Montgomery County

While the exact housing preferences of Baby Boomers is yet to be determined, Montgomery County provides an attractive location for senior housing in whatever form it takes – the County’s diverse landscape offers opportunities for both more traditional, suburban senior housing (both multifamily and age-restricted single-family units), and multifamily facilities in urban/town center locations. And with the introduction of “Commercial/Residential” zones throughout the County, in connection with the re-write of Montgomery County’s Zoning Ordinance in 2014, opportunities for urban infill senior living facilities have expanded.

Many of the prior commercial zones, which either did not permit senior housing or required Special Exception (now referred to as Conditional Use) approval , have been rezoned to Commercial/Residential zones that permit independent and assisted living with Site Plan approval (a process that is generally less time intensive and more predictable than the Conditional Use process).

Looking Ahead

So what does this mean for the future? Demand is likely to continue to remain high for traditional, suburban senior living opportunities. At the same time, with the emerging trend for urban/ town center senior housing facilities and recent updates to Montgomery County’s Zoning Ordinance seemingly in alignment, I think we will continue to see more senior housing opportunities become available in the Central Business Districts and suburban town centers. Both urban and suburban product types are likely to remain in high demand, given the growing need for senior housing and the wide variety of personal preferences among Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation (with ages in the two generations spanning from 53 to 92 years of age).

Liz Rogers is a land use attorney who helps clients secure zoning approvals in Montgomery County, the City of Rockville, Washington, DC, and Prince George’s County. She works on projects for developers of mixed-use, commercial and residential buildings, educational institutions, religious organizations, and individual property owners. For more information on Montgomery County’s Zoning Ordinance on senior housing options, please contact Liz at [email protected] or 301-841-3845.