New Anchorage senior living homes see growing demand

Construction workers at Baxter Senior Living, an Anchorage assisted living home scheduled to open in early Fall 2019. (Photo by Kirsten Swann / Alaska Public Media)

As Alaska’s senior population booms, leading to the construction of hundreds of new assisted living home rooms, developers report surging demand — from seniors in state and Outside.

“It’s definitely a growing market,” said Anchorage developer JR Wilcox.

Wilcox is president of Baxter Senior Living, a new assisted living home in the final stages of construction at the corner of Tudor Road and Baxter Road. It represents a major transition: The 5.7-acre lot was once a trailer park, and Wilcox once worked for an oil company, he said. The multimillion-dollar assisted living development started coming together several years ago after market research revealed that — when it comes to senior housing — Anchorage didn’t have nearly enough. Meanwhile, demographers expect Alaska’s senior population to more than double between 2010-2035.

“I said, ‘Well, let’s go figure out how to build senior housing then,’” Wilcox said.

Baxter Senior Living is now preparing to open its doors later this summer. Wilcox said applicants include Alaskans hoping to remain in Alaska as they age, and Alaskan retirees in the Lower 48 looking for ways to come home again.

Historically, that hasn’t always been possible. Alaska has a limited supply of assisted living and other care options. For every assisted living bed in Anchorage, there are about 26 seniors, according to a 2018 report by Agnew::Beck Consulting. In Juneau, there are about 84 seniors for every assisted living bed. Around the state, independent living units are in similarly short supply.

Baxter Senior Living, offering multiple levels of care and sweeping views of the Chugach Mountains, is now one of at least three new assisted living homes currently taking shape in Anchorage alone. On the south side of town, Native corporation Cook Inlet Regional Inc. (CIRI) is in the planning stages of a new 107-unit senior living facility, according to municipal records and a company spokesman. Five miles up the road, another new assisted living home is in the final stages of construction.

Aspen Creek Senior Living is preparing to welcome its first residents in August, according to Executive Director Kemish Hendershot.

While Aspen Creek’s parent company, Spring Creek Enterprise, has operated assisted living facilities in the Lower 48 for decades, Hendershot said, the new facility in South Anchorage is its first development in Alaska’s largest city. It was built in response to Alaska’s growing need, the executive director said. Featuring spacious community rooms, the home aims to emphasize the value of elders in the community, providing space for families to be together and stay together, he said.

So far, he said, the 92-bed facility has drawn strong interest from both Alaskans and residents in the Lower 48.

“They have family that live here in Anchorage, and they’re in need of help, and they want to come be close to family,” Hendershot said.

Across town, administrators at Baxter Senior Living report the same out-of-state interest. Wilcox, a lifelong Alaskan, said he’s seen it firsthand — people come north to be with family, and even retirees who’ve moved south look for ways to come home again.

“You want to go back to where your family is and where you understand the place and like the place. I’ve seen that happen with my grandparents,” he said. “There’s sort of a boomerang effect that’s been widely observed in the Frost Belt, and I think we’re getting some of that here.”