Developers Offer Alternative Housing Options For Seniors As Wants, Needs Change

By  Kathy Ritchie
Published: Tuesday, October 24, 2017 - 5:00am
Updated: Thursday, October 26, 2017 - 12:45pm

Supported by AARP Phoenix

Mary and David Patino view a scale model of Mirabella at ASU.
(Photo by Jackie Hai - KJZZ)

Arizona has long been a destination for older adults, with its pristine retirement communities and warm climate. But aging in America isn't what it used to be. The issue isn’t going away. We have to talk about it. This is Part VII of "The State of Aging in the Valley," a series that explores the reality of an aging society.


Senior housing is, and will continue to be a complex issue. There’s not enough inventory, it’s not always affordable and land costs are rising.

There's also uncertainty when it comes to programs like Medicaid, which helps pay for nursing home care. There's also a shift happening. Needs and desires are changing. People aren’t only looking for the traditional retirement home anymore and developers are creating alternative forms of housing.

In about three years, Mary and David Patino will be answering the front door to their new home inside a glittering high-rise tower on the corner of Mill Avenue and University Drive called Mirabella at Arizona State University (ASU).

“That’s exactly what attracted us to this model and being on campus," said Mary Patino, who is 77. Her husband is 74.

Plans for Mirabella at ASU.
(Photo by Jackie Hai - KJZZ)

The Patinos are among a growing number of older adults who don’t want to live in the suburbs, where many senior communities are located. They want an urban lifestyle.

“That’s what I want. I want to walk out the door and see the world. I don’t want to walk out the door and see more people like me," said Mary Patino.

Set to open in 2020, Mirabella will feature more than 300 apartments, including assisted living, memory care and skilled nursing units, plus amenities like restaurants, an indoor/outdoor pool and a 24-hour concierge. For their part, the Patinos are most excited to mix and mingle with another generation.   

“Dave and I came down one day and we went over to the bookstore. I was buying some things for my grandchildren, because I told them how fun it would be to be on campus with grandma and grandpa — and they were so nice," said Mary Patino. "The kids in the bookstore were so nice to us.”

Mirabella isn’t a new concept. Other universities have built senior housing near campus.

What makes this unique, said Paul Riepma, senior vice president of Pacific Retirement Services, which is collaborating with ASU on the project, is that residents can live like students — everything from taking classes together to sharing meals.

"Under Dr. [Michael] Crow's leadership and what ASU wants to do, it's really taking this initial first step that's been made and going to the next step," said Riepma.

But living at Mirabella, or a similar community in the Valley, comes at a price.

“This is a buy-in community, so entrance fees would go from anywhere from the high $200,000 to $1 million plus," said Riepma.

Buy-ins are not unusual, neither are the monthly fees, which Riepma said will run about $3,900.

“For most people, this is still a viable financial opportunity," he said.

Still, there's a finite number of people who can afford to live in developments like Mirabella, according to Jim Belfiore, owner of Belfiore Real Estate Consulting. However, "we haven’t reached market saturation, and we’re just at the beginning," he said.

Belfiore also said availability and affordability are big factor. Another big factor? Healthcare.

Gail Harley is a retired teacher.

“My husband is in a memory care facility and I visit him every day. We’ve downsized our home twice," said Harley.

Both Harley and her husband receive a pension and Social Security, totaling more than $7,500 a month. It’s a lot of money, but, she said,“the facility costs $5,610 a month. Tom’s income is $4,322.”

So Harley covers the remaining amount, plus the cost of personal items like incontinence briefs. She’s in the financial middle — too much money to qualify for low income housing and too little to buy into a community like Mirabella.

Gail Harley, a retired teacher, lives in a 55+ manufactured home park.
(Photo by Jackie Hai - KJZZ)

So, she lives in a trailer park.

“Well, you wouldn’t want to say that out loud in the park,” she laughed.

Actually, it’s a 55 and over manufactured home park.

“It’s lovely," said Harley. "I have lovely backyard and a lovely porch.”

Belfiore said "they look a lot different than the mobile homes might what people think or remember.” He also said they’re less expensive to build than traditional housing. And that’s why developers want to get into this market.

“I think we’ll start to see large scale development in the next 2-3 years, and I believe based upon the demographics, the need will continue to grow over the next 5 to 10 to 15 years," he said.

In the interim, technology could help fill the housing gaps. Take a website like SilverNest, a roommate matching service for Baby Boomers. Ultimately, there are more questions than answers in a world that requires more money to grow old.

Reach The Reporter
Kathy Ritchie

More About The Sources
Mirabella at ASU


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