Housing nonprofit breaks ground on facility for middle-income seniors

March 6, 2023 : GBH, Tori Bedford

A groundbreaking ceremony Monday kicked off construction at Opus Newton, a middle-income senior living development touted by housing developer 2Life Communities as the first of its kind in the nation.

The housing nonprofit offers government-subsidized options for seniors, and the state is full of luxury housing for those in the upper end of the income bracket, said 2Life President and CEO Amy Schectman. But when it comes to the middle, a majority of older adults are left with few options.

“They can't afford the high-end stuff and they don't qualify for the lower-end stuff because they earn a little bit too much money or saved a little bit too much money,” Schectman said. “There's a moral imperative to close that market gap and to provide something that offers a chance for the people in the middle.”

The nonprofit spent the last seven years trying to figure out how to address the needs of this specific demographic, Schectman says. To keep monthly fees low, residents pay a one-time “community share” fee for their unit, funding that helps pay for the construction period. By providing at-home care on site, residents can opt in or out of services depending on need, which reduces costs for the nonprofit. Meals will be served three times per week, instead of nightly, and residents sign a contract to volunteer at least 10 hours of their time per month to help out with the needs of the community.

“People are coming up with more and more really interesting topics that they're going to lead, groups they're going to be part of,” Schectman said. Volunteer hours can be used creatively, and some future residents have already suggested a jazz group, a choir, lecture series and question and answer sessions with nurses. “Lots of vibrant activity is already coming from our residents.”

Units at Opus begin at $380,000 to buy and $1,800 monthly to rent, according to Schectman. Opus leverages residents’ home equity and offers the option to receive 80% of their up-front “community share” payment when they leave, or use the funds for their care.

Of the 174 available units, 95% have already been sold, according to a 2Life spokesperson, which enabled the nonprofit to begin construction a full year ahead of schedule.

MassDevelopment, the state's finance and development agency, is supporting the project with $130 million in tax-exempt bond financing.

The new housing development is slated to open in the summer of 2025, connected to the Coleman House operated by 2Life (formerly Jewish Housing for the Elderly) on the Jewish Community Center of Greater Boston’s Campus.

“Massachusetts faces a housing crisis, and projects like Opus Newton … bring us an important step forward in easing the housing burden for Greater Boston and for Massachusetts,” MassDevelopment President and CEO Dan Rivera said in a statement.

State and city leaders including Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll, U.S. Rep. Jake Auchincloss (D-Massachusetts) and Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller were on hand for the groundbreaking Monday.

“We know so many individuals in our lives are making choices about where to live based on the high cost of housing,” said Driscoll. “Let’s make those choices easier. Let’s allow people to live and grow and age with dignity in the communities they love. This is a thrilling day for Newton. Let’s make sure we can have more thrilling days across this commonwealth."

Single older people in Massachusetts are more likely to face economic insecurity than their peers in any other state — despite higher average incomes than elderly people in many other parts of the country, according to a UMass Boston study from 2019.

Last month, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu announced 800 new affordable housing units throughout the city, including 160 income-restricted units for seniors.