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Life After Condo

Life After Condo

Article written by Jack Carr, P.E., R.S., LEED AP, Criterium Engineers
Published in Condo Media, June, 2015 

We boomers do not want to recognize our own aging much less approach our parents with the suggestion it is time for them to move out of their condo unit and into assisted living housing.  After all they have friends in the community and their unit has only become more comfortable since their retirement.  But time marches on and so does our health and ability to self-manage our lives.  So what to do after the condo?

This question is being asked every day in Maine, perhaps more here then any where else in the country.  Maine has the highest median age (43.9 years) in the nation and the second largest proportional share (17%) of boomers than any other state.  The graying of Maine is well documented and the statistics are in stark contrast to what Maine is planning to do with the rising tide of seniors in the population.

Past generations faced this problem by creating in-law apartments and other family arrangements but today’s world is different.  Assisted living facilities are sprouting up all over the country providing a wide array of services for senior living including monitored apartments, assisted living, nursing care, and dementia units.

In Maine this is somewhat true for folks who can afford the steep monthly rates in the un-subsidized apartments.  These apartments are referred to as ‘market rate’ apartments in the industry.  These rates can range from $3,000 to $5,000 per month with an add-on fee of about $600 for an extra person sharing the apartment.  Currently in the Greater Portland area, there are 614 of these types of 55 plus apartments being constructed over the next year and they are being booked fast to those who can afford them.

Some refer to this new living style as a cruise boat on land as they have many amenities found dear to senior.  As an example, one of these new 128 unit complexes on 10 acres in South Portland has shuttle service; social event planning; a pharmacy; bank; hairdresser; gift shop; health club; movie theatre; and two 24-hour restaurants.  The Nebraska developer of this property has ten other similar communities across the country.

So the problem in Maine is not a lack of these market-rate apartments steadily coming on line but rather for the many folks who can not afford them and depend on state subsidy housing in the later years.  Subsidy housing rates can range from $800 to $1,200 and they are in strong demand with an estimated 9000 seniors waiting on a list.

With this type of demand and the clear aging demographics available one would think Maine would be gearing up for this pressing need.  But it is not.  Instead politics and economics are setting up barriers for the local housing authorities to respond.  As an example, a bipartisan bill has been put forth to raise $65 million for subsidized housing through state bond funding.  Governor Paul LePage has spoken strongly against this needed bond and instead has directed the Maine State Housing Authority (MSHA) to manage on the existing resources.

The MSHA is still working from a 2009 bond allowing only the construction of 120 per year over the last six years.  Only 47 units are planned for next year.  This is because the Governor has refused to sign federally backed, tax-exempt bonds to have been issued by MSHA in 2011 and 2012.

Despite bipartisan opposition to the Governor’s position and protests from local newspapers such as the Maine Sunday Telegram and group like the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition, the present status is stagnant.  Even with the passage of the $65 million dollar bond bill, this bill would only provide for 1000 apartment units, far short of the 8,975 units recommended by the Maine Real Estate Manager Association.  We can only hope making this serious matter visible, positive steps can be taken to protect the thousands of aging Mainers who do not have the resources to enjoy the un-subsidized living.