Though many seniors try to age in place, some inevitably wind up needing special housing arrangements at some point, whether in the form of assisted living or nursing home care. But figuring out where to put all these seniors may be a challenge.
By 2050, the population of individuals aged 65 and older is projected to double in the U.S., growing faster than any other age group, which means we could see a surge in senior housing demand.
At the same time, retailers are slowly but surely dying out. The aptly named retail apocalypse has been taking out stores left and right even before the coronavirus outbreak began, but in the wake of the pandemic, we've seen dozens of popular retailers file for bankruptcy and make plans to shut down physical locations. All of this is taking a toll on shopping centers and malls, which are losing tenants at a dangerously rapid clip.
The silver lining, however, is that these two seemingly unrelated trends -- demand for senior housing and increased retail store closures -- could actually come together to benefit each other.
Could abandoned retail centers become senior housing?
Malls can't run profitably without a steady stream of tenants. And with the potential for an alarming 25,000 stores to close by the end of the year, it's clear shopping center operators may need to consider an offbeat but viable pivot: converting empty malls to senior housing.
By nature, malls are larger spaces with the potential to house a massive number of people. But just as importantly, they tend to be conveniently located, adjacent to highways and public transportation. That makes malls prime locations to house seniors without cutting them off from family and loved ones. In fact, one reason why so many older people resist going into nursing facilities is that they don't want to feel isolated from the rest of the world, so setting up senior housing in the right location is crucial.
Of course, thriving malls need not make immediate plans to kick out their retail tenants and start redesigning their space. But malls that are struggling may want to look at converting themselves to senior communities -- places where older folks can live comfortably while also having access to amenities, like onsite activities and fitness.
In fact, one mall is already trying this model. The Crossroads Mall in Oklahoma City has been struggling for years. A 2017 rebrand of the space failed, so now, the community is trying to turn the 800,000-square-foot site into a facility for people with dementia. Those involved in that development are hoping to capitalize on the generous space at their disposal and turn it into a haven for those in need.
The Millionacres bottom line
Clearly, there's a host of logistics to work through in the course of converting malls to senior housing. But given the ways retailers are closing their doors, as well as the rates at which Americans are aging, it seems like there's much to be gained for shopping center operators to start going down that road.