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By:  Mary Kate Nelson |

Too rich for affordable seniors housing, too poor for market-rate seniors housing—the predicament is widespread, but the senior housing options for these older adults are not.

Now, there’s an emerging consensus as to how middle-income seniors housing communities should be run: think less like a Ritz-Carlton, and more like Southwest Airlines, experts say.

The middle income seniors housing market includes older adults with an annual income between about $25,000 or $30,000 and $50,000, Plante Moran Living Forward Principal Dana Wollschlager explained Wednesday during a Senior Housing News webinar. These older adults have too high an income to qualify for the low-income housing tax credit program, for instance, but too low an income to afford most private-pay seniors housing.

The seniors housing industry has done a mediocre job of meeting the needs of extremely low income seniors, Wollschlager said. But to better serve middle-income seniors, she explained, there’s a variety of things that should take place, including making improvements to reimbursement structures, policy changes, improving government communication between agencies, improving the regulatory environment and reevaluating building code requirements.

No matter how you dice it, though, the need for middle-income seniors housing is real and pressing.

More than a quarter—29%—of U.S. adults over than 85 years of age have an annual income between $25,000 and $50,000, Wollschlager said. On top of that, she explained, the average median retirement savings among Americans ages 62-69 in 2015 was just $105,000—and the gap between top earners and the rest of the population is expected to increase significantly over the next 40 years.

“Folks never anticipated [senior care] would cost this much,” Wollschlager said.

All things considered, there are proven ways to finance and design middle-income senior housing communities to be profitable and worthwhile to own and operate.