It took Chris Wasileski and his father, John Wasileski, 25 years to complete development on their company’s magnum opus, an upscale, age-restricted community of 400 homes called OceanView at Falmouth.

Now the father-and-son company, Topsham-based Sea Coast Management Co., has embarked on its next project, an age-restricted community of as many as 105 homes to be built in two phases near Cumberland Center. They expect to sell out the first phase of 53 homes in three years.

The 55-and-older community, called Cumberland Crossing, is the newest of several housing developments across Maine that have been built to cater to affluent empty nesters, a growing demographic in the state. Chris Wasileski, the company’s director of development, envisions Cumberland Crossing as the ultimate community for active seniors who would rather engage in recreation or volunteer work than spend time on yard work or home maintenance and repairs.

“I want to move to a community like this, if I am ever able to, when I grow up,” Wasileski said.

Advocates for seniors say projects such as Cumberland Crossing are too exclusively priced to solve Maine’s senior housing crisis, but they do serve a market demand that is very real. Town officials see such projects as necessary to entice well-to-do seniors out of the homes in which they raised their children to free up those residences for new families.

One of the major draws of Cumberland Crossing is its heavy focus on community services. A full-service staff takes care of landscaping, home maintenance and repairs, housecleaning, security, emergency response, transportation and other on-demand services. However, it is not an assisted-living community in the sense that there is no on-site medical staff.

The community, where seven homes had been sold as of mid-May, also will have a community and recreation center built after more of its homes are completed. In the meantime, residents will have access to the facilities at OceanView in Falmouth, Wasileski said.

Another focus of the community is energy efficiency, he said. Designed and built to mitigate heat loss, the homes are connected to the town’s natural gas utility infrastructure, equipped with energy-efficient environmental control systems and have 16-panel photovoltaic arrays affixed to their rooftops.

“We use the guidance of our residents and our customers from project to project,” Wasileski said. “Sometimes they come up with our best ideas.”

Work goes on at the model home at Cumberland Crossing, a new senior housing development near Cumberland Center. A base model, 1,500-square-foot home in Cumberland Crossing will cost $625,000, nearly three times the state’s median home price. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Many will balk at the price of admission. A base model, 1,500-square-foot home in Cumberland Crossing will cost $625,000, nearly three times the state’s median home price of $210,000. It’s expensive even for upscale Cumberland, where the median home price is about $430,000.

Home buyers in Cumberland Crossing have options to upgrade and enlarge their homes in various ways for additional costs, and that’s not all. The community also charges homeowners a monthly fee of $2,000 to cover the cost of the services it provides.

That fee alone would price out most Maine seniors. The average total monthly cost of living for a two-senior household in Maine is about $2,600, according to a leading economic security index.

“They’re a bit pricey – they’re not starter homes,” Cumberland Town Manager Bill Shane said about Cumberland Crossing. “They’re homes for basically people that want to look at getting away from, you know, mowing the lawn and shoveling the driveway and doing all those, and want to live close to Portland but still want to live out in the country a little bit and enjoy the peace and quiet out here as well.”

Shane said Cumberland has seen a variety of age-restricted communities go up over the past decade or so, and that Cumberland Crossing is set to be one of the largest. He said such communities add to the tax base and serve an important function of creating churn in the local housing market, as seniors move into new, smaller homes and free up their previous homes for younger families to move in.

“Honestly, it’s not something that the town has pushed – it’s basically the developers that have come in here have seen a need in our market,” Shane said. “We have been historically an older community, but those demographics are changing, rapidly.”

Workers from Blue Rock Stone Center install countertops this month in the model home at Cumberland Crossing. The developers expect to sell out the first phase of 53 homes in three years. Seven had been sold by mid-May. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Other age-restricted communities in Maine catering to affluent seniors that have actively built and sold new homes within the past decade include OceanView in Falmouth, Highland Green in Topsham and Village Green in Cumberland. Most of the state’s designated senior housing is more modest in amenities and price, consisting primarily of apartments, town homes, duplexes and cottages.

Advocates for senior housing say there simply isn’t enough to go around in Maine, particularly at affordable prices.

Maine’s population is the oldest in the nation, with the highest median age of 44.7 years. It is tied with Florida and Montana for the largest proportion of residents age 65 and older – 19 percent of the state’s 1.3 million people. It is estimated that about 40 percent of Maine seniors who live independently are financially insecure.

Cumberland attempted to create a multigenerational neighborhood on town-owned land in 2017 that would have included affordable senior housing, but Shane said the feedback from developers was that in order to be economically viable, the community would have to be built to a higher density than the town’s residents would abide.

“I don’t think that project is going to move forward,” he said.

Shane said the biggest barriers to creating affordable senior housing are high land and construction costs, which have been increasing steadily. He said Cumberland officials might have to wait until the next recession to revisit the issue.

In a development with a focus on energy efficiency, the homes will have 16-panel photovoltaic arrays affixed to their rooftops. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Jess Maurer, executive director of the Maine Council on Aging, said it is virtually impossible to build affordable senior housing in the state’s current economic environment without financial assistance from the government.

“You basically can’t develop affordable senior housing without some sort of state subsidy and federal tax credit,” she said.

Meanwhile, there are at least 9,000 seniors in Maine who are waiting to access affordable housing, Maurer said. Many of them can no longer use the upper floors of their homes because of injury or arthritis, have catastrophic home damage they can’t afford to repair, have become unable to handle home and yard maintenance and upkeep, or are in an isolated rural area and have lost their ability to drive, she said.

Right now, the average wait time to enter government-subsidized affordable senior housing in Maine is three to five years, Maurer said.

There is nothing inherently wrong with expensive, upscale senior communities such as Cumberland Crossing, Maurer said. Every senior is an individual, she said, and some who can afford it will undoubtedly enjoy living there, while others won’t find the age restriction and structured lifestyle appealing.

“There’s definitely a demand for places like that,” Maurer said. “I think we need to develop all kinds of housing. There is no one solution.”

filed under: