Remember when the answer to “What do we do with all these old people” was something along the lines of, “Stick ‘em in a nursing home?”
People reaching their golden years these days don’t buy that. Senior living today has traded the Stalinist tenement herding paradigm for a heavy concentration on lifestyle and activity, and it’s good business to give the people what they want, says John Ralosky, COO of Solvere Senior Living, a management firm for senior living centers based at 125 Village Boulevard.
From his vantage point, Ralosky has seen the senior living industry change quite a bit over the past 30 years. And he’s at the fore of a new senior living center, Homestead at Hamilton, currently under construction on a 24-acre parcel at 2450 Kuser Road, near Klockner Road.
Ralosky will discuss the Homestead Project and some of his insights at the Mid-Jersey Chamber’s “Economic Insight Series: Hamilton Township” on Tuesday, June 14, from 7:30 to 10 a.m., at Stone Terrace by John Henry’s, 2275 Kuser Road in Hamilton.
Joining Ralosky will be Steve Collins, president of Environmental Liability Transfer Inc., which is developing the Congoleum property off Sloane Avenue; Jamie Thurmond, regional real estate manager at Wawa; and Danny Popkin, founder of Modern Recycled Spaces and First Properties Corp., which is developing the Mill One property project on North Johnston Avenue. Beth McManus of Clark Caton Hintz will moderate. Cost: $35. Visit http://midjerseychamber.org.
Ralosky grew up blue collar in Clifton, where his mother was a garment worker and his father a teamster. He spent his summers in college working in a factory off Exit 154 of the Garden State Parkway, where a huge apartment/condo building now sits.
The first in his family to go to college, Ralosky earned his bachelor’s in political science from Fordham in 1984. He immediately set off for Capitol Hill because “I wanted to be a policy wonk,” he says. He worked for a Maryland state senator whose father happened to be the founder of a senior care facility. When the senator lost his bid for a congressional seat, he became that company’s CEO and Ralosky went to work for him.
For the remainder of the 20th century, Ralosky moved around a lot (Chicago, Wisconsin, Cincinnati, Boston, New York) and moved his way up the ladder in the senior care and living industry.
By 2000 he was a vice president at Benchmark Assisted Living, moving to senior vice president tow years later at Atria Senior Living Group, then regional director at Phoenix House. In 2011 he found himself back in New Jersey and co-founded Solutions Advisors to consult to the increasingly troubled senior-living-facilities sector.
Like all real property sectors a few years ago, the senior living space got right-hooked by the recession, particularly from the occupant perspective, Ralosky says. Solutions Advisors worked to help senior communities market more effectively. The company eventually got into the operations side of the business, and in 2014 Ralosky found himself able to work with a friend and longtime industry colleague, Kristen Kutac Ward, who had founded Solvere, also at 125 Village Boulevard.
Then to now. Back in the 1980s there was pretty much just nursing home care for seniors who needed some help. The terms “independent living” and “assisted living” weren’t part of the lexicon. Independent living meant living in your house until you died, essentially. And anyone in what is today called assisted living — defined generally as a long-term senior care option that involves support services such as meals, medication management, bathing, dressing, and transportation — would be in a nursing home 30 years ago, Ralosky says.
Aging baby boomers started to change that setup. They wanted to have more lifestyle options and be in more control of where and how they live, he says, so the senior living industry started to adapt to the wants and needs of its customers.
Things developed slowly and steadily until the recession hit, and once it did, seniors and seniors-to-be got a lot savvier about what to look for and where to spend their money to live, Ralosky says. Prospective tenants for senior communities first took to age-restricted housing and then downsized to independent living centers. They came in looking for one- and two-bedroom apartment spaces with medical staff nearby, if they even wanted or need help, rather than hospital settings or studio spaces.
This new customer-driven market has led to an arms race of sorts, where the competition in the senior living sector is not just who will build the most units, but who will provide the best overall site that offers an array of lifestyle choices.
Homestead’s marketing tack. In April Homestead at Hamilton officially broke ground on Kuser Road. The $59 million project will bring 195 total units of senior living, across the areas of independent living, assisted living, and memory care. It will also provide on-site casual and formal dining, bar and lounge, a state-of-the-art fitness center and exercise studio, hair salon, spa, theatre, and convenience store. The activities areas will be geared towards what residents ask for and want, Ralosky says, because the last thing Solvere, the management company for Homestead, wants to do is dictate what residents should have.
“We don’t want to ‘deliver’ activities,” he says. “We want our residents to decide on their own interests.”
Homestead will be broken down into 96 independent living suites, 75 assisted living suites, and 24 memory care suites. According to Solvere, the property will have a one-time community fee of $3,500 and monthly rentals starting from $3,000 for independent living, $3,750 for assisted living and $5,200 for memory care. Residences range in size from 450 to 1000 square feet and are designed for maximum living space, with natural light in mind.
Being a 24/7 business, Homestead will have a mix of full- and part-time employees that should make up 105 full-time-equivalent workers, Ralosky says. The construction work, by Pike Construction, will contribute to what is expected to be roughly 430 direct and indirect jobs for the area, with an annual payroll in excess of $1 million.
As for the economics of the senior living industry, well, that will depend on which companies listen to the changing times and an increasingly educated consumer. What’s for sure, Ralosky says, is that the days of three-bed rooms and only bingo to kill the time are gone.
“It’s about lifestyle now,” he says. “People are active and health-conscious, and that’s how they stay healthy.”