Occupancy Declined Slightly in First Quarter, Setting Pre-Coronavirus Baseline

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Seniors housing occupancy decreased from 88 percent in fourth-quarter 2019 to 87.7 percent in first-quarter 2020, according to new data from the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC).

Though occupancy was relatively stable leading up to the coronavirus outbreak in March, the impact of COVID-19 is not yet evident in the data, according to NIC.

Additional data from the first quarter show San Jose (95 percent) and San Francisco (91.5 percent) with the highest occupancy rates of the 31 metropolitan areas that comprise NIC’s primary markets. Houston (82.1 percent) and Atlanta (82.7 percent) recorded the lowest occupancy rates.

Cleveland experienced the largest occupancy increase from a year ago, rising from 81.4 percent to 84.9 percent. Pittsburgh saw the largest year-over-year decrease, falling from 89.9 percent to 86.6 percent.

Among specific seniors housing types, the occupancy rate for independent living decreased in the first quarter to 89.9 percent, and assisted living occupancy decreased to 85.3 percent but remained above its recent record low of 85.1 percent one year earlier.

NIC’s primary markets saw 17,062 new construction starts in the last four quarters, the fewest new starts since 2014. NIC expects the construction late to stay low as the COVID-19 pandemic brings many industries to a screeching halt.

“Data from the first quarter will be an important benchmark moving forward in these unprecedented times, with occupancy and construction starts challenged by circumstances beyond anyone’s control,” says Chuck Harry, NIC’s chief operating officer.

“The industry’s first priority is to ensure that frontline caregivers are in the best possible position to address the health and safety of residents, as well as their own well-being and that of their families. NIC will continue to provide data on the senior housing and care sector to decisionmakers, so America better understands the implications of COVID-19 on seniors housing and its residents.”

Despite the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in March, NIC’s weekly survey of industry leaders shows half to two-thirds of senior care organizations reported no change in March aggregate occupancy rates.

“The deceleration in assisted living property construction starts foreshadows a further slowdown in new seniors housing development associated with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Beth Mace, NIC’s chief economist. “Many finance and capital providers are waiting for more clarity on how the pandemic will play out to understand what impact it will have on the broader economy.”