China’s Senior Housing Market Needs Policy Regulations Guidance

I renovate senior homes in Florida and recently returned from a fact-finding trip to China. I found out that, on a percentage basis, China is getting older. The government allows only one child per couple, while forced euthanasia is no longer practiced and mortality rates are decreasing. The result: there are fewer young people and more long-lived seniors. I was in China to attend the Retirement Living World Conference in Beijing last year. I met with a number of investors and senior living operators from around the world, including Japan, New Zealand, Australia and the U.S. We all learned a lot about the challenges facing China to provide enough senior housing.

I would characterize the Chinese retirement community industry as immature, especially in rural areas. There is a mix of private ownership and leasing. Leasing tends to be less profitable in China, and leasing operations seem small-scale in comparison to operations in other countries. Chinese commentators are calling for new laws regarding rural senior housing. Otherwise, they forecast an overwhelming shortage of affordable senior housing in the upcoming decades. The government has been slow in confronting the fact that Chinese seniors living in the countryside, like those everywhere else, prefer to age in place – live in their own homes and make renovations as needed. Seniors living in rentals are much less likely to spend money on renovations, meaning that over time their situation becomes increasingly uncomfortable.

The problem is a lot worse in China than in the U.S. because the Chinese live longer than us. I don’t know why, but I suspect their use of herbs and fondness for group exercise has something to do with it. Whatever the reason, they have a lot of old yet active citizens. There is growing pressure for the adoption of governmental policies that advantage home-owning over leasing for seniors. This could include tax incentives and new regulations. China might take a close look at the experiences of New Zealand and Australia, where it took over a decade to arrive at effective policies.

We toured a local senior housing complex and, through our translator, learned of the frustration many senior Chinese feel about their current living conditions. Unlike the situation in the U.S., Chinese seniors live in somewhat cramped and inconvenient dwelling units. I don’t think American seniors would put up with these living conditions. Thank goodness I live in a country where older people can renovate their homes to accommodate emerging needs and limitations at an affordable price. I’m proud of the work I do and the country in which I live.

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