From Cardiology To Real Estate: Doctor Developing Housing For South Asian Retirees
As the medical office sector heats up, many doctors are getting out of the real estate business by selling the buildings they originally developed for their practices, but at least one suburban physician has decided to go in the opposite direction. Dr. Anuja Gupta, a cardiologist, recently went into real estate full time, and launched the first retirement community in Chicagoland that focuses on providing homes for the South Asian and Indian communities.
The Mumbai-born Gupta, now principal and managing partner of Aman Living, will unveil on July 14 the clubhouse at Verandah Senior Living, the first phase of what will be a maintenance-free, continuum of care community at 900 West Irving Park Road in suburban Hanover Park, with 55 townhomes, 72 condominiums and an 80-bed facility with 68 assisted living units and 12 memory-care studios.
Her efforts are part of a growing national trend in senior housing. Developers across the country have started creating retirement communities specially designed for minority populations, including South Asians and other ethnic groups, as well as LGBTQ baby boomers, where people can live and socialize with neighbors that share their background and culture. It is an approach Gupta said provides stability and can help cure the loneliness that afflicts many of the elderly.
“South Asians can feel out of place in traditional retirement communities,” she said.
“This is at a time in their lives when they are beginning to have health problems, and instead of focusing on that, they are having to sell their homes and get used to new communities and new people.”
But this corner of the northwest suburbs has one of the densest populations of South Asians in the state, and within a 15-minute drive are a host of temples, mosques and specialty grocery stores. That will allow Verandah residents to attend religious services together, prepare and eat the food they have known since childhood, and celebrate traditional festivals and holidays.
Gupta didn’t dive into a project of this scale on a whim.
“I’ve been doing real estate on the side for a while,” she said.
She went to medical school in India, but did her residency in the U.S., and began practicing in the Chicago region in the 1990s. She also started doing small-scale development work, mostly buying small properties and fixing them up to rent.
“But development is addictive. It started as a hobby and it just grew.”
Going from cardiology to real estate may strike some people as a big leap, but Gupta doesn’t agree.
“My medical training gave me a good scientific mind, and made me an analytical thinker,” she said.
Her mission-driven focus came after talks several years ago with Journey Senior Living President Blair Minton. He pointed out that there was not a single Indian patient in the 40,000 assisted living beds he serviced.
“That got me thinking," she said. She also began speaking to colleagues and friends about their parents.
“Where do they go if they need this type of care?” she asked.
Gupta said part of the problem was that the type of retirement communities now common in the U.S. were until very recently unknown in India, as extended families typically live together and hiring help for elderly is relatively easy. But a retirement community where people literally speak their language will make a difference, and attract residents to a place where they can age with dignity.
Amenities in the new clubhouse include a dining room that will serve multicultural cuisine for lunch and dinner daily, a fitness room, a computer room, a furnished outdoor patio and many spaces for reading, group activities and entertainment.
Aman Living will eventually replace this clubhouse with another located in Verandah’s condominium and medical building. The permanent clubhouse will include the same features, as well as a movie theater, a beauty salon and a library.
The community’s first wave of residents will begin moving into Verandah townhomes this September. Gupta secured funding for this project through a bank loan, as well as a New York City-based investor, along with equity provided by other doctors.
She closed her medical practice in 2017, and will continue developing Verandah until at least 2022. Although she is unsure there will be enough demand in the Chicago suburbs for another community of its kind, Gupta said other areas of the U.S. with critical masses of South Asians, such as New Jersey or Los Angeles, will then definitely be worth a look.
Whatever happens, Gupta seems confident that she will remain a real estate developer for many years, and perhaps even make it the family business. Her 13-year-old daughter wants to be an attorney, she said, but “I hope she joins me in real estate.”
“You start with a raw piece of land where the possibilities seem endless, come up with a vision, and then see it rise. It’s magical.”