Quebec firm plans residences aimed at aging baby boomer population
Réal Bouclin thinks he's figured out how to win over picky boomers to his concept of next-generation senior homes.

The president and chief executive officer of Réseau Sélection, a Quebec senior housing developer and operator, is betting big on the opportunities to be had building residences tailored to the needs of the affluent boomer generation at the centre of the so-called "silver tsunami," the transformative demographic shift under way.

Low interest rates may have Canadians debating whether to dip into RRSPs or take out a loan to buy a first home. Financial advisers say the decision may rest on the age of the home-buyer and their amount of retirement savings.

Mr. Bouclin's Laval, Que.-based company has unveiled a $2-billion, five-year plan to invest in 30 new residential complexes for seniors in the province, mostly in the Greater Montreal area, that play directly to the perceived needs of the aging baby-boom generation.

It's a bold project considering that senior-housing developers are just getting over an oversupply hangover from a decade ago and that industry players are still figuring out how best to woo boomers from their homes and into retirement units often equated with a constrained, depressing, "last resort" lifestyle.

"Baby boomers want to grow old in good health and an extremely important element that we offer is prevention and healthy lifestyle choices," Mr. Bouclin said in an interview.

Réseau Sélection's flagship project, in partnership with Stephen Bronfman's Claridge Inc. and Centria, is a $250- million multipurpose complex that includes condos for families, social housing and retailing. The company calls it an "intergenerational neighbourhood" made up of 1,400 housing units, 1,000 of which are designated for seniors.

Seniors 65 and over will represent one-quarter of Quebec's population in 15 years' time, Mr. Bouclin points out.

In Canada as a whole, Statistics Canada estimates that about 25 per cent of the population will be 65 and over by 2041.

It's a market with plenty of potential but also one with its share of challenges, industry experts say.

"The hurdle to get across is higher than many people in the business believe," Alex Avery, a real estate analyst with CIBC World Markets, said.

Getting the quality of life equation just right is key given the still very strong preference among healthy seniors for aging in their homes, he said.

"Retirement homes are going to be increasingly competing with home-care providers."

Sean McCrorie, director of the seniors housing and healthcare group at CBRE Ltd., says developers are mapping out strategies for winning over members of the generation born between 1946 and 1964.

"We're starting to see developers get strategic in their plans on how to capitalize on that opportunity," he said.

Réseau Sélection is "regarded as being on the cutting edge of [senior-home] design philosophy," Mr. McCrorie said, referring to the company's focus on providing a full continuum of health-care services in one location. "They're anticipating what will appeal to the next generation."

"The silver tsunami comprising the first cohort of baby boomers has a totally different set of preconditions, requirements and desires," Michelle Roth, head of Goodmans LLP's seniors housing division and a founding member of the Canadian Seniors Housing Symposium, said.

Mr. Bouclin says his next move is to expand outside the province to high-growth cities in the rest of Canada and the U.S. Northeast and South.

By Bertrand Marotte
The Globe & Mail