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10 Questions With National Senior Campuses Chair Michelle Bohreer

For the first time, a woman has taken over the ranks of National Senior Campuses Inc., the largest continuing care retirement community organization in the U.S.  

Michelle Bohreer was elected to chair the organization board effective April 1. Bohreer, who is also the company's youngest chair ever, said she brings a different mindset as a woman that will reflect in the organization's marketing strategy and hiring practices as the company prepares for the "silver tsunami" — the flood of demand for senior housing spurred by baby boomers. 

National Senior Campuses Corporate Secretary Mary Colins, Chair Michelle Bohreer and Treasurer Eileen Erstad

NSC is a nonprofit organization founded in 1999 that provides affordable housing and healthcare for middle-income seniors through independent living, assisted living and long-term care facilities. The organization has 16 affiliated communities and serves more than 23,000 residents. 

As the chair, Bohreer's primary goal is to improve diversity and inclusion within the communities while also updating the facilities to become more sustainable and technologically advanced, she said. Ultimately, she wants NSC to embrace multigenerational living by creating diverse communities that blend residents of all ages with a mix of demographics, socioeconomic levels and lifestyles. 

Bohreer previously served as corporate secretary of the national board, which is composed of 15 independent directors. She also was an independent director of two NSC communities in Texas — Highland Springs in Dallas and Eagle's Trace in Houston. A Houston native, Bohreer is a partner at Bohreer & Zucker LLP. 

Bisnow spoke with Bohreer about her priorities as chair of NSC and the state of the senior living market. Some of the questions have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Bisnow: You are the first female chair for NSC. Does being a woman in this role change your approach or the ideas you present in the industry? 

Bohreer: I truly do believe that many women think differently — not to say one is right and one is wrong. Statistically, daughters of seniors make more decisions as to where their parents are going to live than sons do. Being the daughter of a mom in her 80s, I think I relate to that demographic in a different way. I have a different feel of what home is like and what kind of offerings we should have. 

In addition to being a woman, I am also a decade younger than any of my predecessors. I bring a different view as to what our apartment homes should look like, what activities our residents should be engaged in and how important things are such as sustainability. 

Bisnow: When you say sustainability, what does that look like at NSC? 

Bohreer: We each have a role in making sure that our environment continues and reduce problems like global warming and climate change. We use a lot of paper on our campuses. We print a lot of things like menus and cubby-stuffers, where we insert fliers into residents' mail. 

We are starting to do things differently. We are starting to use electronic boards outside some of the same places the information was printed and passed out to 500 to 3,500 residents, depending on which community you were in. We are not using Styrofoam anymore in our communities. We are making shifts from plastic to paper straws. 

Bisnow: What are your primary goals as the NSC chair?

Bohreer: My primary goal is to broaden our diversity and inclusion among our residents and staff. I want our community to be reflective of the broader community it sits in.

When I look at Houston, a melting pot of diversity, our community, Eagle's Trace, doesn't have a broad population in respect to the Indian, Asian and Hispanic communities. I would love to see more outreach in those areas. The same is true if you go to any of our communities across the nation.

If nothing else comes from me being chair, I would love for diversity to flourish in our communities and to be open and welcome to everyone who comes through our doors.  

NSC's Eagle Trace in Houston

Bisnow: Why has NSC struggled with diversity in the past? 

Bohreer: It is certainly not unique to us. [A need for] diversity and inclusion are across the entire parallel of senior housing. Some of it is cultural. When you look at some cultures, having your parents reside with you as an adult child is culturally expected. We are having to penetrate some long-standing norms. 

We also have to look at the pressure of the social environment that we live in. More and more people are aging in place. In certain communities, aging in place is what some communities rally behind and helps someone stay in their home as compared to wanting to move into a continuing care retirement community. 

Bisnow: What specifically are you going to do or launch to increase diversity? 

Bohreer: One of the things we are doing in our communities is using a campaign where we highlight the diversity we do have in our community. For example, if we are marketing, we are going to market in the Hispanic community and highlight those residents inside our community. 

We have a large LGBTQ community in some of our CCRCs. We want to make sure we are speaking with and being community partners with engaged groups that are like-minded so that they can [see] that they are open and welcomed in our community. 

Bisnow: With the growth of cultural-niched communities, how is NSC considering the needs of specific cultures? 

Bohreer: We have to be open and accommodate. Our communities are large enough that we can accommodate for religious meeting space and food differences. We can take on those challenges. If someone chooses to live isolated in their culture, that is a choice that they make. We want to give people a broader experience than that. 

National Senior Campuses Inc.Treasurer Eileen Erstad, Vice Chair – Community Relations Jim Hayes, Chair Michelle Bohreer, Vice Chair, Strategic Planning Grover Wrenn and Corporate Secretary Mary Colins

Bisnow: What is the state of the senior housing market? 

Bohreer: The market for senior housing in the Houston area is strong. We don't have as much continuing care retirement communities as you might think. Houston is full of pop-ups [which is one level of care and not the full continuum]. You may see a new memory care company or an assisted living facility, but it doesn't have independent or memory care attached to it.

Part of that is licensing, it is more difficult to be licensed for the full continuum of care. We find it is much better for the residents long term. 

Bisnow: Is there a need for more senior living facilities? 

Bohreer: Someone turns 65 every minute in our country. The baby boomers are here, and we are living longer. I see a great future for CCRC. Most of our 16 communities have current development projects, where we are building a new independent residential building or expanding our continuum of care. We have a new building that just opened at Eagle's Trace [in Houston]. The future is bright for quality senior housing.

Bisnow: Previously Bisnow reported a projected slowdown of senior housing development, specifically in the Houston market. Would you agree? 

Bohreer: I am not seeing a large opening of units in the Houston market. Occupancy is well over 90%. At times, we have reached close to 100% occupancy at some of our communities.

Bisnow: Does NSC have any national expansion plans? 

Bohreer: As an organization, we are looking to build new communities across the country. We are hoping to be in Florida and the Carolinas soon.  

Bisnow: What are the major trends that NSC is having to adapt to? 

Bohreer: Baby boomers want to be more connected and need more bandwidth on their WiFi. They want to have a cellphone, an iPad and a laptop all running at the same time. We have to have buildings, apartment homes and common areas that all are technologically set up. 

We want to also make sure that we continue to have interactive communities. The more engaged people are with technology, there is a trend to be less engaged in the community. We have to make sure we continue to have organized groups, clubs and activities. 

Bisnow: What is a multigenerational community, and how does NSC hope to embrace this trend? 

Bohreer: One of the trends for seniors is aging in place. One of the reasons we found out people want to age in place is that they enjoy living near their children, grandchildren and younger people who keep them younger.

I envision a day when our community is part of a larger community. Within our walls, you would find retail and non-senior high-rise apartments. Being able to be side by side and eating in the same dining halls or restaurants, so everyone can benefit from the connectivity. We are certainly looking at the next projects with those eyes to see if it's a possibility. We want to be open to what the market wants.