Construction has begun on a $60 million senior housing expansion in Portland, Oregon, managed by Madison-based consultant Craig Witz and designed to appeal to younger, more active seniors, he said.

“With so much of existing senior housing, you can drive by and think, ‘Oh, that’s senior housing,’ ” Witz said. “The current generation isn’t thrilled with that and I know the next generation of seniors is not going to stand for it.”

At Rose Villa, a nonprofit, continuing care retirement community founded in 1957, the expansion project is adding 75 new independent-living units and many new common areas to the 22-acre development, which currently offers 130 traditional senior housing units.

About 40 of the new units will be grouped in small communities known as “pocket neighborhoods” meant to emulate single-family housing. There will be about five units per one-story building, all featuring private front entrances that open to a shared themed garden space. That way, Witz said, neighbors socialize not in building hallways but on front porches and central open spaces.

“It creates more of an intimate residential neighborhood feel,” Witz said. “The pockets bring the units closer together, but (residents) each have their own home.”

Another new design element

The other new design element will be independent-living apartments on the top floor of mixed-use buildings to be built along a new “Main Street” section of the community. The ground floor of the buildings will offer new common areas including restaurants, cafes, a wine bar, retail outlets, a performing arts center, wellness studio, aquatic center and technology & learning center.

This approach, coupled with the pocket neighborhoods, will create a more appealing community for current and future generations of more active, independent seniors, Witz said, “rather than just building more large apartment buildings with double-loaded hallways.”

Witz said the concept of pocket neighborhoods in senior housing with shared outdoor garden spaces started in the Pacific Northwest but has not yet been widely adapted to the less temperate Midwestern climate.

Witz, a Madison native, has more than 25 years’ experience coordinating senior housing development nationwide; he founded Witz Co. in 2002.

Good but not frothy market

He described the market as good but not great for continuing care retirement communities, which provide a full-spectrum of housing options for seniors from independent living to assisted living to nursing care.

“It’s not as frothy as the apartment world,” he said. “I’m seeing activity, but it’s still cautious and conservative. ...

“I’m keeping really busy, and the demographics certainly are in our favor. It’s just not crazy-busy the way it was before everything (crashed).

“I’m still not seeing speculative projects,” Witz said.

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