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The senior living industry has a voice. You can hear it on Bridge the Gap podcast!

189: Jane Rohde

Intergenerational pioneer Jane Rohde, Principal at JSR Associates, discusses the vision for multi generational and affordable housing options in senior living. Learn about the nonprofit Live Together.

Lucas

Welcome to Bridge the Gap podcast, the senior living podcast with Josh and Lucas. We have a great guest on today. You’re going to want to sit and listen to this for sure. No matter what you’re doing. We want to welcome Jane Rohde. She’s with JSR Associates, and she’s been an architect and a designer in the industry for so long. Jane, welcome to the program.

Jane 

Thanks so much, Lucas, Josh. It’s good to be here. 

Lucas 

It was great to see you at our Ignite Conference. Such an intimate group of almost a couple of hundred people at the Bobby Hotel in Nashville.  It was great to see you there. What did you think about the event?

Jane 

It was my first out of COVID event. So it was all this weird trepidation. And then all of a sudden you realize that it’s all like-minded people and opportunities. And actually it was igniting for me because I’m older, and I got to see younger people who were there. And I spoke to one young guy. He was like 24, he’s like, “I was born in 1994,” and I’m like, “Great! Oh my gosh. You could be my grandson.” But he was interested in the industry, and so that was very exciting for me. The other part was I met a couple of people who synergistically have experience in some things I’ve been trying to figure out. And when you get those kinds of networking opportunities and sit and doodle on the back of coasters in this case on the rooftop garden after the amazing presentation that we had from Scott Hamilton. It was like, after all those different pieces and parts, and we sat until it got dark to figure out the world of the future of small residential assisted living. So for me, it was a great start to getting back into meeting and being with people again. 

Lucas 

So let’s talk about the things that are quote unquote,  “burning on your heart,” and the things you’re trying to quote unquote, “figure out.” A big topic in the industry for many years has been affordable housing, or maybe a better term attainable housing. Places for older adults to live that they can actually afford. It’s been a very difficult solution, or problem to solve. You have something that you’ve just launched. It’s a not-for-profit called Live Together. Talk to us about this new launch and the reasons behind it.

Jane 

So Live Together came about because I couldn’t in my standard practice of senior living consulting make it happen. And so, as we were evaluating the gaps and seeing the different gaps, it was like, “all right, how do we recreate everything that I’ve learned in 30 years? How do we take all those different lessons learned from the U.S., from China, from all these places we’ve worked and recreate something that is an intergenerational model?” We know people do better when they have more normalcy in their lives. We have segregated folks and it’s in the financial market. It’s in the economic market. We have done it by age, by age-ism. We’ve done it by ethnicity, and religion, and all the different things that we’ve separated people instead of bringing them together. So the concept is that we look at things from an intergenerational perspective, but also evaluating how do we create a long term care continuum that isn’t necessarily moving a person through the continuum, but providing housing that’s not only accessible from a physical perspective, but also allowing housing to have access to amenities and services.

Jane 

So the University of Buffalo did a wonderful job of redefining universal design as being something that’s not only accessible physically, but it’s also accessible to amenities and services. And that would be healthcare, food, people, access to children, access to animals. Dr. Bill Thomas years ago started the Eden Alternative that then morphed into the Greenhouse Project. And I got to meet him really early on when he first started and I was like completely enamored, but I also thought, “okay, this guy’s onto something.” We can do something different in our industry, and the conversations about not reaching the tipping point and looking at affordability at the same time, we have an opportunity right now to meet like 60% to 70% of our population that needs different types of housing, different types of access to services. And no one’s really doing it because it’s hard. It’s not a simple process of A plus B equals C.

Jane 

So we’ve been looking for multifamily, I think is actually part of the solution. Because multifamily is looking at different types of affordable solutions. But now we want to mix that in with access to services and amenities. And that’s how we’ve started looking at the continuum. Whether it’s a virtual village that you start with, or you start with evaluating who your community resources are that are existing and build off of those. But you have to have the collaboration and the partnerships in order to make any of this happen. And so we’ve looked at universities, college programs and everything else, because if you don’t have a solid workforce and a workforce development plan, you don’t have a good community. And it’s all interlinked, right? It has to look at all of them to make it all happen.

Josh 

Wow. That is a lot to unpack, Jane. You just gave us a lot to talk about, and we’re going to try to squeeze this into 20 minutes. So there may be a part two that has to happen here, Lucas. I’m not really sure. So intergenerational, you talked about a lot of different things. One of the, I think the secrets here that we could dive into with you is, is the strategy for execution. Because I think in talking with people over the last several years, it’s kind of become a little bit of a buzzword. So I think people recognize the benefits, but to your point, it’s not easy. It’s not a typical, “hey, we’ve got a cookie cutter developer model that we can just go plant and all these things and magically intergenerational programming and housing happens.” So what are some of the steps that you’re taking to try to figure this out that could help to influence our audience who also would love to be part of helping figure that out?

Jane 

So I think that if you look at intergenerational from the living perspective, so I’ll give you an example. It’s probably the easiest way to do it. So when we were looking at those, we thought, “all right, if we have students that are in nursing programs, social work programs, et cetera, and they need to do practicum, how come they’re not living with elders to understand that?” So part of it became looking at if we have families combined with elders and all the apartments or building units are completely accessible. And we can also provide an opportunity for students to stay as part of it. So whether that’s in co-housing like you would think of, common.com or where we live, where we work kind of ideas. If you took that kind of concept and you added that in, then if you have a multifamily project, you can actually have those natural pieces and parts that happen.

Jane 

The other thing is from working with Generations of Hope, we realized quickly that you have to have a place where everyone can come together and everyone signs up when they move in. And it’s kind of like a pledge to be part of an intergenerational community model. So a lot of times we’ll look at a vulnerable population. So, if you have young women aging out of foster care with one child, like a project called Genesis, that’s located in D.C. They have elders move in knowing that part of their commitment is X number of volunteer hours with helping those young women become more independent and helping them work so that they can actually employ themselves, move ,and grow. So, it’s a cooperative process, and it’s part natural process that happens. But it’s also part programmed. And you can’t over program cause you can’t force relationships, right?

Jane 

But you can encourage relationships. So my moment of success for that particular project was going in and I – going through – and I helped different issues in their apartments. Each one had something that they had a question about, the seniors did.  And so one of the elders had written on the board, “if you need babysitting call such-and-such number,” She goes, “better yet, just come knock on my door. I live in room, in apartment 105.” And I thought, “okay, that’s success. That’s success right there.” Because you already have outreach and people knowing why they’re there, and bringing people together. And it’s not unnatural that we do that. It’s just that you have to foster it, and you have to provide space for it, and a reason for being. So it’s purposeful. It’s intentional. You balance the number of elders with the number of families and the potential of vulnerable folks. And those vulnerable folks could be students. Because if you think about it, a student can be vulnerable at that one point in their life. Or it could be an underserved youth that is aging out of the foster care program, who’s enrolled in school, but they need support. So it’s inter support, and interdisciplinary in terms of the approach. [It’s] not easy and a little complicated, but it does work.

Josh 

Yeah, absolutely. So that’s obviously one of the things that is working that you’ve uncovered and it’s obviously not easy. What would you say thus far in designing and implementing intergenerational housing, have you seen a particular pattern of the biggest obstacle to overcome as you start working on these projects?

Jane 

There are some regulatory barriers. So I had a woman, Christina Foster, she contacted me out of the Corning New York area. And she goes, “I’ve been to your presentations. I want to do this. These are my obstacles I’ve found.” So, until we worked on this one project in D.C.,the aging department and the child welfare services had never been in the same room together. Ever! So making that bridge, because people are afraid that the regulatory barriers are going to be too big because child welfare says X, licensing for older adults says Y. So then it was like, “all right.” Regulatory barriers, we’ve definitely impacted that with facility guidelines. Institute licensing code, we’ve changed all of that. It has its own book. We’ve got a lot more going on there. We’ve changed some things in the building codes.

Jane 

We’ve changed some things in NFPA. And when I say ‘we,’ it’s a global ‘we.’ There’s a lot, a lot of people, really smart people. Who’ve worked through so many of those kinds of barriers. But regulatory wise, and getting it down to the grassroots level is harder because you need to work with the local authorities having jurisdiction so that they understand what you’re trying to achieve. And you have to balance fair housing with this concept. Because if someone says, “well, you have to let anyone move in.” Okay, that’s cool, but they’ve got to commit to X, Y, Z. And there’s a balance to that. So I would say understanding and regulatory issues have actually become some of the larger barriers, but giving people opportunities to say, “well, how do I overcome that?” It’s like, put both regulators in the room together. Have a conversation. So the Mather Institute always says “have a cup of coffee, and over a cup of coffee, anything can happen.” I’ve heard many people who are trying to – in this space – are like, “I drink a lot of coffee.” Because you’re trying to help people get a better sense of where they’re going.

Josh

So another question. I do believe, as you have said, this is probably the intergenerational concept and, and the program, and the communities that do this probably have some of the greatest potential to meet the largest amount of underserved segments of our society. Do you find, as you are working these programs through, do the financial markets support and understand this? Or do you find a lot of time you’re having to spend educating and just trying to help them understand what you’re trying to achieve?

Jane 

You are so spot on. You’ve just summarized my last three years of research, of trying to figure out how financially what won’t work and what could work. And so it’s not your typical developer. I used to work at Ericsson in the CCRC marketplace for eight years in the beginning of my career. It’s very hard to change the mindset of ‘we’re going to move services to people.’ And instead of the other way around. Financially making it work, if you’re down into a certain lower income economic level, so you have all 202s and you have all tax credit projects that you’re trying to combine or work together with. You want to evaluate that in the context of, there is a philanthropic component that you have to almost have to have. If you move up into the middle market where people, I mean, if you can imagine assisted living being $2,500 a month, instead of $12,000 a month, you have a product there that people could actually utilize and they could afford. There is a market for that.

Jane 

So it moves up incrementally. It gets a little easier obviously the more money you have. The traditional finance in terms of bond financing and other types, it doesn’t, people can’t wrap their minds around it. And I’ve worked with some really super smart financial people. So it’s really become more evaluating it from a different perspective and developers who have checkboxes too that they’re trying to fulfill. We have a project in Detroit that we’ve been looking in, Jefferson Chalmers, working with a great developer, met him through Smart Growth America. And he really gets it because he knows what he needs. We’re just trying to figure out now how do we do that? And if we need a philanthropic upstart for the sticks and bricks part, we can do that as long as we can make this operation sustainable.

Jane

And when you try to add a nurse, and a social worker, and PT, OT into your building model, we’re not, from a property manager, and people are like, “no way.” And I go, “well, hang on.” What if we added an outpatient PT, OT clinic that also serves not just the population, but the community at large? What if we   have our own home health care agency, and we provide those services to folks in the building, but we also provide those services to the community at large? Then you start having two smaller profit centers and you take that money and you put it back into the project. So it’s just a different way of thinking. And  it’s just like the grassroots part of it. And we’ve been looking at adult foster care in Michigan. And, that’s where I was talking with Vibrant Life at Inspire because we had all these conversations and he goes, “I think your reimbursement level could be higher.”

Jane

And we’re like, “well,  if we could do that then we could actually staff and have an assisted living extended care component as an apartment in a multi-family building.” Right? And I got the healthcare guys on the AHJ side to say, “yeah, you can do that. These are the criteria, but yeah, we’ll let you do that.” So when was the last time you saw an assisted living component, completely integrated into a multifamily intergenerational environment? So finances are tricky, but I’m not to a completely working model that won’t require some philanthropic upfront. But I’m trying very hard to stay away from the philanthropic, “every year I got to raise X,” because that to me is not sustainable and reimbursements are unreliable. So you’re trying to balance both.

Josh 

Wow. Lucas, is your mind blown yet? Yeah. Wheels are spinning. So let’s move the conversation forward here because we could get in the weeds for you, with you, for I feel like a lot of time here. And I know our audience is going to want to connect with you to get in the weeds if you’ll take time to do that. But let’s talk about just your ability to impact and influence. So right now you have this organization. You’re obviously a pioneer on the intergenerational front, and actually working with a lot of different people to actually make it happen. My hope is that you are going to make a huge impact. But right now, what would you say with your organization and with you personally, what are the things that you need to come in place to kind of take this to the next level, where you have models in place that really can influence the industry to where more people can have the opportunity to do this in more markets?

Jane

That’s a super question cause we have that conversation a lot internally. So I think that we’ve set up three advisory councils. So that folks who are part of the council can also work on projects and be paid for services on – they work through projects with us. And we have one as an institute. So I would say,  funding is always a piece, right? It was why we created the non-profit. That’s why we did the motorcycle rides to Environments for Aging, so we could raise a little bit of money. So we raised money there. We’re working on United Way. We actually have a United Way code. So if any companies are looking at wanting to do United Way contributions, that’s a great way. We’re also on Amazon Smile, and any little thing we could figure out that would help contribute to that.

Jane 

So we’re also looking at HRQ grants to do workshops because we think that the workshop component is where we’re going to be able to dig into the grassroots of a neighborhood, and a community, and figure it out. So we’re looking at that for Cumberland, Maryland. We’re looking at that for Meridian, Mississippi, and we’re looking at that potentially for upstate New York and maybe Detroit. It’s going to depend a little bit on the Detroit demographic of what we need there. So it’s the seed money part, as you guys know. If you have a project, how many developers have said, “if it’s shovel-ready, I’m ready.” And that’s one of the reasons we created a nonprofit too. Because we thought if we could raise money, we could make more sites be shovel-ready, right? Because there’s always the zoning process.

Joe 

And when you can make zoning folks smile, because you’re doing something like this, I figured that was a great indication that we were onto something. I would say that it’s partially the funding for that, but it’s also having additional partners who are interested in building the institute, for example. What is person centered care mean to you? What  do you think is the best training that you could possibly give to someone that you’re trying to train somebody to understand what person centered care is? To understand the person as a whole, not as a diagnosis.

Josh 

Oh, I love that. So you did mention, I saw a little bit on social media about your charity bike ride. How did that go? Was that fun?

Jane 

It was great! I also got to check off a bucket list. So for those who are Harley riders, you will know, or motorcycle riders, you’ll know that the Tail of the Dragon. So I got to do the Tail of the Dragon with a friend of mine. It’s 318 twists and turns and 11 miles. And I successfully did it. Scared the crap out of myself a couple of times, but I managed to do it. And we got to Environments for Aging. We had a really successful conference there for four days. Ida was coming up in the middle. And so we’re like, “hey, let’s hang out here for one more day.” And then we went west, and then north, and ended up having a Live Together meeting in Cumberland before I went home. So it was great. We raised almost $5,000 for the cause. We were excited about that. And we’re going to work on Institute training and programming with the money that we got from that, coupled with some other grant stuff that we’ve been doing. So yeah, it was one of those ‘good for you personally, great for you professionally,’ all combined into what, like a two week period of time? Where you came off and you just felt like you had the biggest adventure you’d had in a long time.

Josh 

Oh, that’s so cool. Super exciting. So I think me and Lucas got to get Harleys for the next one. Can we write that off Lucas? Can we write off a Harley?

Lucas 

I know. I just want to get a sidecar with Jane.

Jane 

At least then I could have a dog with goggles. You know?

Josh 

I just got the funniest visual. I’m never going to be able to get out of my head.

Lucas 

Jane, me in the side car holding the dog.  We’re good. We’re good.

Jane 

That’s great. I’m up for that.

Lucas 

It’s phenomenal, Jane. It was great to see you at Ignite. It’s great to have this conversation with you. It definitely won’t be our last. I know our listeners are going to want to connect with you. We’re going to put all of this in the show notes to make sure that everybody knows how to connect and get with Jane. It’s been a phenomenal conversation, Jane. Thanks for your time today. 

Jane 

Thank so much you guys. Look forward to talking to you more.

Lucas

And thanks to everybody for listening to another great episode of Bridge the Gap.

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189: Jane Rohde