Occupancy stalls for some senior-living communities in the Lake Houston area

Fordham at Eagle Springs officials said attracting tenants during the pandemic has been challenging. (Kelly Schafler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Fordham at Eagle Springs officials said attracting tenants during the pandemic has been challenging. (Kelly Schafler/Community Impact Newspaper)

Fordham at Eagle Springs officials said attracting tenants during the pandemic has been challenging. (Kelly Schafler/Community Impact Newspaper)

The development of senior care facilities has increased in the Lake Houston area in recent years, with at least three developments set to open in early 2021 and one having opened in June during the coronavirus pandemic.

However, new senior facilities opening coupled with industry strains from the pandemic have contributed to occupancy rates dropping at long-term care facilities in the Houston metro area, said Anne Standish, research statistician with the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing and Care, a research group.

Senior housing occupancy in the Houston area, which includes nine local counties, dipped to 75.9% in the third quarter of 2020, according to NIC MAP Data Service. Comparatively, the Houston area’s occupancy rate was 81.4% in the third quarter of 2019.

Greg Shelley, the program manager of the Harris County Long-term Care Ombudsman Program at Cizik School of Nursing at UTHealth, said occupancy rates in Harris County could be dropping as families bring their elderly relatives home to avoid pandemic visitation restrictions.

“We have ... had the unusual situation of more families bringing their loved ones home or finding another place to provide care for them because of the restrictions related to coded visitation,” he said. However, NIC Senior Principal Lana Peck said greater availability to timely and accurate testing as well as vaccine distribution should help improve occupancy rates.


“The vaccine will, obviously, be a game changer in bringing occupancy rates up as more and more folks’ families are more comfortable with sending their loved ones to senior housing,” she said.

Senior living amid COVID-19

Claudia Mosqueda, the property manager of Fordham at Eagle Springs, said attracting new tenants during the pandemic has been challenging for the 55-plus independent-living community that opened in June. She said the community estimated the occupancy rate would be 25%-35% by the end of 2020, but instead it is at 18.9% occupancy.

Mosqueda said she believes many elderly individuals are concerned about the pandemic and are waiting it out rather than moving to a new community.

“There’s two things that affects the senior community. One is that they’re planners, so they’re not going to move in immediately to begin with, ... and then with the pandemic, they’re just kind of sitting still,” she said.

Self-reported data sent to Texas Health and Human Services shows there have been 4,154 COVID-19 cases and 560 coronavirus-related deaths among residents at assisted-living facilities and nursing homes in Harris County. There were 187 active resident and 103 active employee cases as of Dec. 1.

However, the state of Texas began distributing two vaccines in December to fight the virus. Almost 60,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine came to the Greater Houston area in mid-December, with the initial batch reserved for health care workers, residents and staff members in long-term care facilities, and other at-risk populations.

In a Dec. 17 press conference, Gov. Greg Abbott said distribution would ramp up in late December, after press time, when the Moderna vaccine becomes available.

Costs of senior living

Rising costs of long-term care may also be contributing to the occupancy changes amid the pandemic.

According to a December report from Genworth, a financial insurance company, Texas’ median annual cost of a private room in a nursing facility has increased 2.35% in the last five years to $76,650, while a private one-bedroom unit in an assisted-living facility increased 2.43% in the same time period to $47,970 annually.

With new long-term care facilities opening every year, it creates a competitive market that results in some higher-priced facilities, Shelley said.

Additionally, Harris County has lost more than 10 assisted-living facilities since last year, Shelley said. Some providers reduced their assisted-living programs, while others took them away altogether, he said.

“We’ve even had some providers—a noticeable number of providers—either choose not to get licensed or turn in their license due to the depth of difficulties and providing safe care for folks during the pandemic,” he said.

This is not unique to Harris County, as the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living released results in mid-December showing 66% of the 953 nursing home providers across the nation who participated in the survey do not believe they will stay open another year due to increased COVID-19 costs.

Turning to affordable housing

While occupancies are down for most senior housing, officials from low-income senior communities in the Humble and Atascocita areas said there is still a high demand for affordable senior housing.

Affordable senior housing communities are certified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide reduced rent programs for families whose household income is below the area’s median income. Five-year estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau 2019 American Community Survey data show the median household incomes in Humble and Atascocita are $41,845 and $100,292, respectively.

Mosqueda said Fordham at Eagle Springs’ cost, although comparable to other nearby senior living communities, could contribute to slower occupancy growth amid the pandemic. Units range from $1,300 for a one-bedroom unit to almost $2,000 per month for cottages, per the website.

“I’ve actually had a couple of cancellations where they qualify [and] they could probably make it,” she said. “However, if they can have assistance through an income-based program, they’re probably going to go through that route.”

Donna Wells, property manager at Wentworth Senior Apartments, said all 90 of its tax-credit units are occupied. The independent-living community in Atascocita offers units for those who make under 60% or under 30% of the area’s median income.

The waitlist at Wentworth Senior Apartments is about three to six months for seniors who are within the 60% category, and the community is accepting applications. However, Wells said there is a five- to 10-year wait for the complex’s 30% units.

“We stopped taking applications [for the 30% units] because the wait was so long,” she said. “I have people who have been waiting since we opened [in 2011].”

Seniors age 55 and older who meet the 60% income requirement can lease a two-bedroom unit for $999, while seniors in the 30% category can lease it for $466, she said. Other tax-credit senior housing communities in Atascocita also stay at 100% occupancy, Wells said.

“[Housing is] in extremely high demand,” she said. “Seniors are living longer than ever; they’re wanting to be independent longer than ever, and there’s just not enough [affordable] apartments for seniors.”
By Kelly Schafler

Editor, Lake Houston | Humble | Kingwood

Kelly Schafler is the editor for the Lake Houston, Humble and Kingwood edition of Community Impact Newspaper, covering public education, city government, development, businesses, local events and all things community-related. Before she became editor, she was the reporter for the Conroe and Montgomery edition for a year and a half.



MOST RECENT

The University of St. Thomas is a private Catholic college in Houston. It also has a microcampus in downtown Conroe. (Emma Whalen/Community Impact Newspaper)
University of St. Thomas offering free tuition to first 500 students who apply

The online degrees are in the following fields: cybersecurity, network technology, electronic technology, general business, and alcohol and drug dependency counseling.

houston firefighters rally
Appeals court rules in favor Houston firefighters in collective bargaining case

The 14th Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the fire union in a case that originated when the city and the union failed to reach an agreement on a labor contract in 2017.

The city of Humble has been investing in improvements to its four parks, such as Schott Park. (Kelly Schafler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Officials talk park improvements, incoming e-commerce tenant at Humble BizCom event

Local business leaders and community members gathered virtually May 6 at Humble BizCom event hosted by Partnership Lake Houston.

The Texas Department of State Health Services projects a significant shortage of nurses by 2032. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Q&A: Why Texas faces a growing nursing shortage and what can be done to address it

In 2018, the state health department estimated about 11% of the demand for nurses was not able to be met, and that number is expected to rise to 16.3% by 2032.

Legacy Community Health is bringing COVID-19 vaccines to historically underserved communities across Beaumont and Houston. (Courtesy Pexels)
Legacy Community Health vaccine rollout targets underserved communities in Houston, Beaumont

The health network is partnering with other entities, including Beaumont Independent School District.

HTV
Houston, Harris County annual addresses no longer hosted by Greater Houston Partnership over Texas voter bill dispute

Local leaders criticized the area chamber of commerce for not taking a definitive stance on two voting access bills currently being deliberated in the Texas Legislature.

The new location is Chipotle's first in Magnolia. (Courtesy Chipotle Mexican Grill)
Chipotle opens in Magnolia; get a sneak peek of new Houston aquarium and more metro news

Read the latest business and community news from the Houston area.

The business specializes in customized in-home consultations during which families will receive a fire safety plan specific to their house's floor plan and an age-appropriate, individualized plan for each family member. (Courtesy Fire Smart, LLC)
Fire Smart, LLC celebrates one year of providing fire safety education across Greater Houston area

The business specializes in customized in-home consultations during which families will receive a fire safety plan specific to their house's floor plan and an age-appropriate, individualized plan for each family member.

The Houston Interactive Aquarium & Animal Preserve's marine building has sharks, turtles, stingrays, alligators, fish and eels. (Kelly Schafler/Community Impact Newspaper)
UPDATED: Houston Interactive Aquarium & Animal Preserve opening delayed as attraction awaits final approval, inspections

The Houston Interactive Aquarium & Animal Preserve will open off Beltway 8 in the Humble area.

Harris County ESD 11 plans to hire 150 individuals to staff its new ambulance services. (Courtesy Cypress Creek EMS)
Harris County Emergency Services District No. 11 aims to hire 150 staff to launch new EMS

The district launched its hiring effort in late April and held a virtual job fair April 29-30 to attract candidates.

HCA Houston Healthcare Kingwood has undergone name changes, an acquisition and expansions since it opened as a 149-bed hospital in 1991. (Courtesy HCA Houston Healthcare Kingwood)
HCA Houston Healthcare Kingwood celebrates 3 decades in community

HCA Houston Healthcare Kingwood has undergone name changes, an acquisition and expansions since it opened as a 149-bed hospital in 1991.