Manny Gonzalez – Embracing Cultural Diversity
September 20, 2021
Visionaries of the multifamily industry have paved a path for developers to enrich and celebrate the lives of diverse groups of baby boomers.
“Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.” This quote from Henry Ford demonstrates how limited the choices were to the early buyer of the Model T, the first production car in the United States. It could also be used to describe the early versions of senior apartments. It was almost as if they were rolling off an assembly line. Since most of them were affordable tax credit communities, they were for the most part formula-driven; but they were successful since it was rent-for-need and not by choice.
BREAKING THE MOLD
My first recollection of someone actually breaking the mold of the formula-driven age-qualified apartments was the Burbank Senior Artists Colony in 2005. It was inspired by industry visionary John Huskey, and the community was a significant example of the innovation, creativity and leadership of the company he founded, Meta Housing. A first of its kind, this apartment community was designed as a completely creative, arts-inspired environment. This unique senior multifamily property in Southern California offered residents a chance to actively participate in the arts at every turn.
Huskey was known for his research, always trying to figure out what his residents were looking for. Meta Housing sensed there was a change in the demands of older individuals; they were no longer seeking a place to simply reside and play bingo. With the proximity to Hollywood and neighboring movie studios, Meta Housing created a community where residents could flourish by interacting with other like-minded individuals through active participation in the arts.
The community offers live entertainment in an onsite performance theater, socialization in a Hollywood-themed clubhouse, as well as the opportunity to create in the property’s professionally equipped art studios, allowing residents to continue the activities they did for years as a job, but now as an enjoyable hobby. Meta Housing understood that the arts and entertainment culture was embedded in and around Burbank and created a community where people who spent most of their lives in that culture could continue to do so long after they retired from it.
CULTURE, COMMUNITY AND WELLNESS
The U.S. Asian population is diverse. A record 23 million Asian Americans trace their roots to more than 20 countries in East and Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent, each with unique histories, cultures, languages and other characteristics. According to the 2010 United States Census, the Asian Indian population in the United States grew from almost 1,678,765 in 2000 (0.6% of the U.S. population) to 2,843,391 in 2010 (0.9% of the U.S. population), a growth rate of 69.37%, making it one of the fastest-growing ethnic groups in the United States. In 2019, Pew Research reported the population to be more than 4.6 million, nearly triple what it was two decades ago.
Arun Paul, CEO and founder of Priya Living, is one of those 4.6 million.
Growing up in an immigrant family shaped Paul’s commitment to community and communal living. His vision brings together multiple generations to live, play and spend time together, celebrating community and culture. As Priya’s tag line says, “Life in Technicolor.”
The communities make total wellness a daily priority. Yoga, meditation, aquatic classes and Bollywood dancing are among the activities they offer to keep residents fit. Healthy eating featuring the full flavors of Indian cuisine is another way residents can savor life, and the new communities currently in development will also feature a hydroponic garden to grow organic fruits and vegetables to be included in that cuisine. And, in keeping with the Asian American theme, a vibrant chai bar replaces the typical coffee bar.
A SENSE OF PURPOSE
But the vision for Priya goes beyond the bright colors and Bollywood theater, it incorporates numerous ways residents can give back to the community and the world. Working with peers, they teach each other new skills. They take part in feeding the hungry and counseling students and families in need. Paul and his team believe that having a sense of purpose that extends beyond yourself to those who need your compassion, your time and your services leads to a richer, fuller life.
Focusing on markets with a strong Asian Indian demographic base, the Priya Living communities offer a vibrant lifestyle with elements that are very familiar to the unique culture of that immigrant population and have been an overwhelming success in each of the locations they have opened.
Henry Ford wasn’t talking about age-qualified living when he said, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got,” but he sure could have been. Fortunately, the industry has visionaries like Meta Housing and Priya Living that are breaking the mold and embracing cultural diversity with a welcoming, inclusive feeling, showing the way for others to do the same.