Welcome to Bridge the Gap with hosts Josh Crisp and Lucas McCurdy. A podcast dedicated to inform, educate and influence the future of housing and services for seniors. Bridge the Gap aims to help shape the culture of the senior living industry by being an advocate and a positive voice of influence which drives quality outcomes for our aging population.

Understanding Future Consumers to Meet Their Needs with Rodney Harrell of AARP

Rodney Harrell, Vice President of Family Home and Community and Housing Lead at AARP, shares the importance for operators to understand the preferences of their future consumers.


One of the things that this industry does a lot of is fall into habits.

Rodney Harrell

Guest on This Episode

Josh Crisp

Owner & CEO Solinity

Josh Crisp is a senior living executive with more than 15 years of experience in development, construction, and management of senior living communities across the southeast.

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Lucas McCurdy

Owner & Founder The Bridge Group Construction

Lucas McCurdy is the founder of The Bridge Group Construction based in Dallas, Texas. Widely known as “The Senior Living Fan”.

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Rodney Harrell

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We're going to have more people over the age of 65 than under 18 by 2034 in the country.

Quick Overview of the Podcast

The housing market is shifting as the needs of the next generation of future consumers are predicted to change. Rodney Harrell, Vice President of Family Home and Community and Housing Lead at AARP, shares the importance for operators to understand the preferences of their future consumers. 

AARP Future of Housing:

  • The AARP Public Policy Institute’s Future of Housing website explores strategies to address the senior housing crisis.

AARP Livability Index

  • The AARP Livability Index scores neighborhoods and communities across the U.S. for the services and amenities that impact you the most.

This episode was recorded at the NIC Fall Conference.

Produced by Solinity Marketing.

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Welcome to season seven of Bridge the Gap, a podcast dedicated to informing, educating, and influencing the future of housing and services for seniors. Powered by sponsors, Accushield, Aline, NIC Map Vision, ProCare, hr, Sage, Hamilton, CapTel, ServiceMaster, Patriot Angels, the Bridge Group Construction and Solinity. And produced by Solinity Marketing.

Lucas 00:43:

Welcome to Bridge Gap podcast, this senior living podcast with Josh and Lucas. Some more exciting conversations here at the 2023 NIC Conference. We want to welcome Rodney Harrell, you are with AARP.

Rodney 00:57:

Thank you for having me. Glad to be here.

Lucas 00:58:

We were discussing off mic your role at AARP. Fill our listeners in, uh, because you do a couple of different things. A couple big things.

Rodney 01:06:

I'm AARP's Vice President of Family home and community and a public policy institute and we work across an array of issues, family caregiving, long-term care, housing, and transportation. I have what we call a livable communities, but I also lead AARP's housing strategy. So across the organization, the work that we're doing to create more housing options for people as they age.

Lucas 01:23:

You're here to, uh, do some networking, but primarily you are leading a session today and I believe it's on the future of, uh, the next generation of consumers.

Rodney 01:34:

Yeah. Participating on a panel. Uh, actually it's a next generation consumer and the idea is thinking about how much the consumers change over the years. One of the things that this industry does a lot of is fall into habits. We're used to things that work that have worked for a long time, but our sessions going to have really discussed how things have changed for consumers, especially with for their needs, who their wants and, and how senior living operators can start to think about that differently.

Josh 01:57:

One of the ways that we bridge the gap, full pun intended, is several thousand people here. Uh, amazing minds doing a lot of strategy talk, but there's so many thousands of others that are in communities that couldn't get away and they would love to be able to hear just a little bit of what you're going to be sharing with these thought leaders here. So unpack maybe the cliff notes version of what you guys will discuss and your thoughts on that future consumer.

Rodney 02:25:

Well, one of the things that really frames things for me and for AARP is the idea that we're going to have more people over the age of 65 than under 18 by 2034 in the country. And that's a fundamental change for so many things, but particularly in the housing space because what that means is for centuries we've been thinking about younger people more so than older folks, and that's shifting and changing. And so that also means there's a great diversity within that aging population, not only racially or ethnically in in that sense, but also in the sense of the things that people want, the ways that we can figure out how to meet needs. So some people will want to be very close together. Uh, some people will want the ability to walk to amenities that they like. Uh, some people will prefer to drive. You're going to have all of those things, uh, together.

Rodney 03:06:

The bottom line is it's going to take a range of different products, a range of different approaches, a range of different models to meet all those needs. Another thing that's really shifted, I think is COVID. A lot of people have been thinking differently. We've had, you know, hundreds of thousands of people die in nursing homes. And what that meant was at least 165,000 folks had died there. But that meant the 165,000 families are thinking about their housing options differently. And those people that are taking care of loved ones, those family caregivers, they're starting to think ahead about what they're going to need as they're aging. So they're more informed about their aging needs. So again, a lot of people are going to be sticking ahead in ways that they are differently and we just don't have enough options for them. So we're looking at a lot of things in communities, bringing more housing options in that are something different than a single family home, uh, you know, to get people what they need and at universal design to design homes in ways that work for folks. So just the idea that generally we need to think more broadly, meet people wherever they are, all along that scale.

Josh 04:06:

Well, so from a practical standpoint, you guys, because you study so much of this and you're leading in thought around this, when you take a snapshot of where you see our industry right now, it's obviously a lot of different types of products and services, realizing that we're going to have to really start changing the way we think about things. What are some of the low hanging fruit that you think, oh, if senior housing is right here today and we know where the population is going and things like that, or at least we can make some assumptions of where we think the population's going, what do you see as some of the things that these developers, owners, operators here today need to be doing or need to be thinking about to start shifting that change?

Rodney 04:43:

One thing we're going to talk about today is something that called the community in the community and the idea, we think about these developments as communities, but they're part of larger communities. We know that people have bonds, they want to connect, they want to be part of things. And so the idea is a, are there things in a community that we can leverage? So are there grocery stores, parks nearby that you can connect to and be part of? Are there other things in the wider community that people want? And what can you provide to the larger community? Maybe there's a coffee shop or some other place where people like to meet and gather that can foster intergenerational relationships and communication or really provide amenities both for the community as well. So not thinking in isolation would be my wishlist. And thinking about kind of what lessons can we get, what tools and supports can we get from the wider community and what can you bring to that wider community? It brings a lens that makes the product better and makes people happier. Yeah.

Josh 05:34:

So I'm curious, you think about the, the workforce training and I immediately go to whether that's at the academic level of college, university, whether that's through trade schools, whether that's all the way down to high school. Do you believe that there's enough emphasis on preparing people for that change that's already beginning to occur, that are going to go out in the workforce and probably no matter what they do in life, they're going to be, I guess, trading services and doing work for a much older demographic? Do you think there's enough emphasis on that right now?

Rodney 06:08:

Yeah, I don't think so. And the is the short answer and there needs to be more. I mean, the idea that a one size fits all solution, that the way that you could treat one person or one group of people automatically works for everybody. That just doesn't work. That's why I really embraced this universal design approach. You think about that in terms of housing, right? Building features in the housing that all people can use, but I also translate it to other facets, like the idea that if we're going to develop a program for training folks, well make sure it's doing the program in a way that meets people of different needs. Maybe we'll be talking to people who have different comprehension or maybe they're, uh, able to get around at different speeds or in different ways. Uh, and setting up from start to finish. The idea that we're going to be dealing with a wide range of folks that have a wide range of needs and a wide range of preferences is key. Because people are willing to and do compromise often, and we all compromise in some ways, right? You don't live in the perfect house in the perfect neighborhood for the perfect price that doesn't exist, but the fewer compromises you have to make, the more adjustments your location or the people who are working with you can make the better off you will be as an individual. And that's really the key in me that that really makes a lot of sense to me.

Josh 07:16:

Well, you know, and it seems like to me this is such a big shift in everything that we're talking about. Seems like it's going to require a lot of partnerships, a lot of cross collaboration, cross pollination if you will. And, uh, probably a lot of even public private sector, uh, partnerships. You have these great ideas as a developer for example, and, and want to implement these things. You know, there's so many stipulations and regulatory things and even zoning things that you have to bring into consideration. So if the work that you guys are doing really more on a global macro, and obviously you get down in the weeds like us here, but you know, that's something that is really important that we've all kind of gotta be tapped into understanding this massive paradigm shift. So I'm curious, you know, you guys, there have such a wealth of information in such a large organization for these kind of specific topics, research, information, education, all the things that you guys provide. Where's the best resource for somebody that's listening out there right now that wants to tap into more of what you work on? How can they find you?

Rodney 08:18:

Couldn't be more spot on about all the key issues that, uh, we're having. I know that zoning was out the door when I would be at the American Planning Association, uh, conference earlier this spring that there's so many communities or across the country knowing well, we don't have those options. So what can we do to loosen those regulations? What can we do to change things? And so they're talking about it and what we've done at AARP, a whole series of things at aarp.org/livable, it's our livable communities hub. And the idea there is we've got model X on, uh, accessory dwelling units. You could build units in your backyard. We've got one on missing middle housing, so communities can have more, uh, units there. We've got universal design, we've got a whole range of different things there. And not just the legislation, but we've got education materials to tell you about what these things are, links to our Public Policy institute.

Rodney 09:01:

So you can talk about what communities have done and, uh, what's going on there. And so the idea is that we need a full surround sound approach for changing these issues societally. It's not just the operators that are going to do it. It's not just people that are going to do it themselves. It's not just the policy makers that're just going to make changes and make magic happen. All of those things go in circle. They're all connected. So the more people that are, uh, informed about these needs and changes, uh, the more easy it is to get legislation in, the more informed that market is, by the way, the more interested people in, the easier it is for the senior market to talk to folks and and meet audiences where they are. So all of that just goes connected. We look at all of those pieces together, uh, in our work.

Josh 09:42:

Wow, Lucas, I mean, what a great conversation. We're just scratching at the surface. Can't wait for our listeners to, that are excited about this. No matter what level of excitement, no matter what their sphere of influence, they can get involved and make a change.

Lucas 09:55:

Absolutely. And it's a great topic, great conversation. Thanks for spending time with us today, Rodney.

Rodney 09:59:

Happy to be here.

Lucas 10:01:

Absolutely. Well, and we are looking forward to, we're going to try to dip into your panel session so that we can get kind of a round to here. But for those of you that couldn't be here, we hope you enjoyed this topic and this conversation. We want to hear from you. Connect with us on LinkedIn and, uh, let's hear a comment and like to hear your views on, uh, the future of the next generation of consumers and how our industry can meet that demand and those needs in a complex arena. Go to btg voice.com, download this episode and many more. And thanks for listening to another great episode of Bridge the Gap.


Thanks for listening to Bridge the Gap podcast with Josh and Lucas. Connect with the BTG network team and use your voice to influence the industry by connecting with us at btgvoice.com.

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