A new senior-housing project will tackle the ‘middle ground’ between living alone and needing a nursing home

By Jessica Hall

Baltimore’s Carehaus, a unique housing arrangement for older adults, will try to solve many challenges under one roof

A new housing development in Baltimore aims to tackle problems facing both older adults and their caregivers when it comes to securing affordable housing and multigenerational care.

Carehaus Baltimore, slated to break ground in 2024, will provide housing for seniors and disabled people, as well as for professional caregivers hired to care for them. All will live together in a multigenerational building, making Carehaus one of the first care-based cohousing projects in the country.

A first location, in central Baltimore, will feature 21 units, housing 16 older adults and disabled people, four caregivers with their families, and a site manager. Carehaus will also have a team of experts in nutrition, fitness, art and wellness.

Carehaus is planning a second location in Chicago, where the company has already bought land.

“There’s a big jump between living alone and needing a nursing home. But there’s nothing to serve this middle ground,” said Ernst Valery, the founder and president of Ernst Valery Investments Corp., and a cofounder and the real-estate developer for Carehaus.

“We’ve gotten away from community, where seniors didn’t need to worry about shoveling their walks because the neighbors did it, or worry about bringing up groceries because the kids in the neighborhood would help,” Valery added. “We’ve got a ‘You’re on your own’ type of society.”

Some 77% of adults 50 and older want to remain in their homes for the long term, according to AARP.

The Carehaus partners sought input from professional caregivers, family caregivers, architects, disability advocates, gerontologists and community members in the Baltimore neighborhood.

The building will include special “cues” to help residents navigate the space, such as textured floorboards to help a resident with low vision know they are approaching the kitchen. It also features outdoor gardens and terraces. Retail space will be located on the ground floor.

“With the silver tsunami, many people don’t need round-the-clock care. They need shared care or congregate care,” said Marisa Moran Jahn, a New York City-based artist and cofounder of Carehaus.

While Carehaus will provide lower housing costs than those involved in independent living, it is not technically affordable housing, Valery said.

In addition to solving a housing and care crisis for the older adults, Carehaus will try to solve problems facing the caregivers, too. By living at Carehaus, caregivers can eliminate a commute, work in shifts and get help from other caregivers when lifting an older adult. Child care is also a big burden for caregivers, Jahn said, and the communal setting will allow workers to care for the children when they’re not caring for the older adults.

“Carehaus is like a Swiss Army knife of housing solutions: elegant design, useful for multiple generations and configurations,” said Sarah Szanton, the dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing. “On top of that, it could be a sustainable model for the best parts of communal living.”

The biggest challenge in the caregiving industry is high turnover, Jahn said.

“Caregivers face such isolation. It affects mental health and physical health — lifting someone from a bed or bath — [and] you need help,” Jahn said. “Sharing the care and rotating shifts will provide breaks and help for the caregivers.”

“The hardest-hit caregivers are the single mothers with small children,” Jahn added. “They’re most in need of some communal help.”

Caregivers in the United States make a median wage of $10 an hour and lack access to sick leave and other benefits, according to the National Domestic Workers Alliance.

Carehaus will pay higher-than-average wages, provide child-care assistance and offer discounted rents for the caregivers, Valery said.

From the archives (September 2021): ‘I’m taking care of everybody, and now I want somebody to take care of me’: The high price of America’s care-worker crisis

The older adults will have one- or two-bedroom units, while the caregivers, who often have children or other family members living with them, will have two- or three-bedroom units.

“This allows the older adult to live independently but [live] in community at the same time. There’s independent space and a big kitchen, big living room, big game room — big community spaces,” Valery said. “The caregivers, too, need help taking care of their own kids. They won’t have a commute; they’ll work as a team and take care of each other’s kids communally.”

While there are some other housing developments for older adults that seek to solve the caregiving dilemma, the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing and Care said such a project hasn’t been tackled on this large a scale, and no national statistics on these niche developments exist.

“Full-scale replication has not been a pattern we have observed thus far in the space,” said Lisa McCracken, the NIC’s director of research and analytics. “We are not aware of cohousing that integrates the caregiving network in such an extensive way, so Carehaus is indeed unique. We anticipate that many will be watching this development unfold and come to fruition.”

Valery is investing more than $2.5 million in the construction, and Carehaus will apply for grants and seek other funding for the process of selecting and onboarding older residents and caregivers, Jahn said. Rents and wages have not yet been set. Applications for residents will be accepted about a year before the Baltimore development opens.

“You create your small society there — raising kids communally, caring for senior communally. The neighborhood can come in as well to have events,” Valery said. “It all mixes to create a small community.”

This story was produced with support from Columbia University’s Age Boom Academy.

More from the archives (January 2023): Millions of working parents, especially women, are unpaid caregivers. So why doesn’t government data account for their labor?

-Jessica Hall

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11-11-23 1414ET

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