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May 21, 2008 at 12:00 am

Experts Discuss Real Estate Needs Of Maine’s Aging Population At MEREDA’S Spring Conference

PORTLAND, Maine – A panel of experts on demographics, affordable housing, retirement communities, nursing homes and health care discussed Maine’s aging population and their real estate needs at the annual Spring Conference of the Maine Real Estate & Development Association (MEREDA) held at USM’s Abromson Community Education Center on May 15.

Noting that the State Planning Office says that Maine’s population is already the third oldest in the nation and is aging faster than any other state, MEREDA President Roxane Cole said the graying of Maine is an especially important and timely topic for real estate professionals in Maine.

“We can’t stop the aging of Maine’s population,” said Cole, “but we can help our members prepare for the profound changes that are already starting to occur as Maine’s population grows older.”

Frank O’Hara of Planning Decisions said that the amount of money the average retiree has and wants to use on a new home is down significantly from three years ago. Still, he said, the wave of aging baby boomers is still coming and that developers must sharpen their pencils and be creative in meeting the demand for housing. He said that retirees are looking for lower cost housing, energy efficiency, one floor living and low maintenance. In terms of lifestyle, O’Hara said retirees want to remain active with recreational, educational and volunteer opportunities, and they want to be near cultural activities and airports. They also want to be in a place that is private, safe and attractive for their children to visit.

John Wasileski, of Sea Coast Management, which develops, owns and manages several prominent senior communities in Maine, including Highland Green and Ocean View at Falmouth, echoed many of O’Hara’s comments about what retiring boomers are looking for in terms of amenities and a sense of community, adding that all seniors want the same things in terms of a continuum of care: to stay independent for as long as possible, to avoid additional moves, to make sure their spouse is cared for, and to avoid the nursing home. He described all of the various housing options from remaining in one’s home with support services, to independent living in cottages or apartments, to assisted living facilities.

Dana Totman of Avesta Housing described the two basic approaches to affordable housing for seniors: project based, which provides housing units that cost less to build and operate because of tax credits or subsidies; and tenant based housing, where low-income tenants are given vouchers that can be used to help pay their rent. Totman described various government affordable housing programs and noted that many current projects have long waiting lists. He said that low income senior have fewer choices and longer waits for housing and that a shift in current government policies are needed to make more housing and assistance available to seniors.

Bill Gillis of Continuum LLC discussed nursing homes and assisted living facilities. He said that those considering buying or selling a facility that receives Medicaid funding or is licensed by the Department of Human Services to be prepared to pay considerable legal and accounting bills. He also noted that the growing number of elderly over 85 years old would lead one to believe that long term care is a good business, but cautioned that how people pay for care is the big issue. Gillis said that only 14% of nursing home patients and 22% of assisted living patients are private pay and that Medicare only pays for short-term rehabilitation.

Dr. David Howes, CEO of Martin’s Point Health Care, told the conference that increased demands on primary care are coming at the same time there is a shortage of primary care and geriatric physicians and a growing demand for lower paid care workers such as nurse practitioners, RNs and CNAs. He said that because of increased longevity there also will be a greater demand on hospitals for out-patient services and physical therapy. Dr. Howes said that an aging population will want housing and medical care that helps them stay active for as long as possible and called for new primary and long-term care models of care to keep people out of nursing homes.

Founded in 1985, MEREDA is an organization of commercial real estate owners, developers and related service providers, whose mission is to promote an environment for responsible development and ownership of real estate throughout the State of Maine.

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Categories: Press Release