SHAG Succeeds With Middle-Market Senior Living, Unconventional Branding
This year has been one of redefinition for Sustainable Housing for Ageless Generations (SHAG). The Washington-state based senior housing provider — the largest in the Puget Sound area — celebrated its 30th anniversary with a new vision, and came close to changing its name altogether. SHAG’s acronym used to stand for “Senior Housing Assistance Group.”
“We were actually thinking about changing the acronym away from SHAG,” Executive Director Jay Woolford told Senior Housing News. “But when we did market research, we realized there was too much brand equity. People knew SHAG, but they either didn’t know what it stood for or had a misperception that we were a quasi-government agency.”
The acronym’s new meaning embraces the group’s updated mission of helping its tenants age gracefully and continue to be vital contributors in their communities, and a commitment to diversity within their communities. SHAG has also embraced the diversity of its 28 communities through irreverent, quirky marketing. One example of its unconventional approach: When a visitor to SHAG’s website clicks on Woolford’s headshot, it transforms into a photo of him playing guitar.SHAG has also embraced the inevitable “Austin Powers” references to its name.
“When I started, the number of people who laughed because they thought of Austin Powers was astounding,” Woolford said. “We decided to embrace our inner SHAG.”
Senior Housing News interviewed Woolford about SHAG’s new mission, its operational model and its future plans, including working more closely with Medicare Advantage insurers and other managed care organizations.
Senior Housing News: You joined SHAG in 2010. How has the organization changed in that time?
Jay Woolford: The focus was on new development. As I visited each community and talked to managers and residents, I came away realizing we were doing a great job of providing housing. But we needed to prepare ourselves to support the residents living in our communities, to allow them to age within our communities.
We recognized we needed to redefine the mission. We want to preserve and sustain affordability, and highlight what we’re doing to support and sustain people to age in community.
Affordability has always been the foundation of SHAG’s mission statement. What do you do to ensure affordability?
From the beginning, our model has always focused on providing affordable housing for middle-market seniors who earn too much to qualify for subsidized housing, yet don’t make enough to enter independent living communities. We target folks who are either living on a fixed income, people who aren’t retired and fall within the broader spectrum of income levels.
We take advantage of the state’s 4% low income housing tax credits and volume cap bonds almost exclusively to develop our properties. We’ve found, from experience, the 4% credits are not as competitive as the 9% credits, and it’s a bracket where we’re able to develop properties in a manner to comfortably offer rents that conform to 60% of a renter’s annual median income (AMI).
Is this an operational model that can be duplicated elsewhere? Or does SHAG have the right confluence of policies, pricing, scale and market conditions in your operating area?
I believe our model is replicable, but definitely needs to adapt to market conditions. Median income, property prices and market rents definitely are a factor. As I mentioned, the economics are generally favorable for projects with a 50% and 60% AMI income qualification. There is a growing need though to serve folks in the 40%-50% AMI income bracket.
In recent years, housing costs have risen while incomes have remained static. What else has SHAG undertaken to help residents maintain affordability?
Over the last couple years, we’ve developed supportive services teams which help connect our residents available services in an area. That can include anything from nutrition support to transportation support to access to health care and economic support. We’ve also developed partnerships with local groups and nonprofits, which allow residents to connect with the neighborhoods where they live while also granting them access to local services.
How does SHAG evaluate those partnerships?
It begins in our annual planning sessions, looking at what areas we want to focus on. We try to be intentional in fostering these partnerships, but we also need to know when to be opportunistic when we’re approached by other organizations that are interested in working with us.
We’ve been reporting on how Medicare Advantage plans are starting to cover non-skilled in-home services, which could potentially make MA a payer in senior living. Is SHAG in any discussions with MA plans or eyeing opportunities to work with different managed care organizations/payers?
SHAG has very much been involved in discussions about opportunities to best support healthy living in affordable housing. We believe that this must be accomplished through partnerships with ACOs, HMOs, CMS and other provider networks and insurance carriers, to begin to look at effective models of delivery, preventive measures and cost containment. Everyone needs to recognize that housing is an essential part of health care. As new programs move into our market, we are actively pursuing discussions. We also continue to advocate for ways to create payer models that will support aging in community.
Can you talk a bit about SHAG’s scale?
We’re focused on the Interstate 5 Corridor, from the Canadian border down to Olympia and Puget Sound. Currently, we operate in excess of 5,400 affordable units. We have several new communities under construction. Our communities tend to be larger — the sweet spot is in the 200-unit range. We have density by design, and it gives us another advantage: a diverse population we serve. Unlike a lot of communities that are predominantly homogenous, our communities reflect the population in the area. With that comes diversity.
What does your pipeline look like?
We recently opened a new senior living facility in Tukwila, in conjunction with the city. We took several parcels and built the housing, along with a standalone community center, a coffee shop and an outdoor plaza where we’re able to do farm stands in the summer. The plaza is next to a library and brings in a lot of intergenerational traffic.
We’re building two to three new buildings a year and will now be redeveloping several of our older communities. We closed bond financing last week on a property we developed 15 years ago. This will allow us to bring the community up to a new standard.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Written by Chuck Sud
SHAG Opens Lynnwood City Center Senior Living
An Affordable Senior Living Community for Residents of All Incomes
Posted on Nov. 13, 2017 by Stacia Kirby
SEATTLE (November 10, 2017) Sustainable Housing for Ageless Generations (SHAG) announces the opening of its newest community, Lynnwood City Center Senior Living. Located at 19501 40th Avenue West in the City Center of Downtown Lynnwood, the community offers residents an active lifestyle within a comfortable and convenient independent living setting. With the opening of Lynnwood City Center, SHAG now operates 26 senior living communities in the Puget Sound region.
“We are delighted to celebrate the opening of our newest SHAG community in downtown Lynnwood,” said Jay Woolford, SHAG Executive Director. “We feel privileged to be a part of this area’s dramatic growth and development by offering quality, sustainable and affordable apartment living that promotes the well-being and quality of life of the residents. Lynnwood City Center Senior Living will provide its residents with a welcoming new home where they can enjoy their lives, together with new friends and neighbors.”
Key Features of Lynnwood City Center Senior Living
*Available in select units
Lynnwood City Center Senior Living is intended to serve older adults of all incomes. A selection of apartment homes are reserved for individuals and households with fixed incomes. Each member of the resident’s household must be at least 55 years old, and at least one member of the household must be at least 61 years old or disabled.
The Senior Housing Assistance Group ("SHAG") is a private Washington nonprofit corporation dedicated to providing quality, affordable independent living opportunities for older adults. In addition to promoting sustainable apartment lifestyles for older adults, SHAG's mission is to enhance and enrich residents’ lives and support their ability to live and remain independent as they age. Formed in 1988, SHAG has become the largest operator of affordable senior living communities in the State of Washington, with over 250 employees supporting twenty-six (26) communities serving more than 5,500 residents throughout the Puget Sound region. SHAG is opening a new, centrally-located headquarters in the First Quarter, 2018 in Tukwila, WA as part of a two-phase affordable senior living community development known as Tukwila Village. For more information visit https://www.housing4seniors.com.
Stacia Kirby, 206-363-1492
Youth, Seniors Together Plant Gardens & New Friendships
Local high school students and a group of residents of Lakewood Meadows, a SHAG senior living community, worked together to fill and plant 10 new raised garden beds at the community on Friday, June 23, at 5228 112th St. SW, Lakewood. The elevated gardens are designed to make it easy for the seniors to cultivate vegetables, herbs and blossoms, and also reap broader benefits.
SHAG is providing the garden beds and the soil; other materials have been donated by The Home Depot, Tacoma Mall Blvd. location. Manager Brianna Madison was able to approve the request to help out, and Home Depot provided lumber, nails and other materials to construct the raised beds. Home Depot has a generous donation program in place, with some stipulations to help sort the requests, such as raffles not being eligible.
“Many of our residents are longtime gardeners accustomed to growing produce and flowers and sharing them with their neighbors,” said Jay Woolford, executive director of SHAG. “These new beds will enable them to continue this meaningful tradition. They will also be able to provide their gardening wisdom with the students, which we hope will plant the seeds for friendships between the generations.”
About seven students and fifteen residents from SHAG Lake Meadows senior living community assisted at the intergenerational planting/gardening event. There was a lot of fun and smiles as they shared and learned and grew new friendships as well vegetables, herbs and blossoms. Students and volunteers came from several groups, including Charles Wright Academy, Lakewood Boys & Girls Club, Tacoma Community College, and Clover Park High’s Key Club.