Evolving senior housing helps make Wichita more age-friendly

Oxford Grand, near 29th and Maize Road, is part of the Oxford Villa Active Senior Apartments that opened in December. (Feb. 8, 2017)
Oxford Grand, near 29th and Maize Road, is part of the Oxford Villa Active Senior Apartments that opened in December. (Feb. 8, 2017) The Wichita Eagle

Julie Hansen is 75 and lives alone since her husband died two years ago. She stopped driving last summer. While she needs maintenance-free housing and transportation assistance, she is an active senior and doesn’t need, or want to pay for, everything to be done for her. She was thrilled to find a new property – and a new concept for Wichita – at the Oxford Villa Active Senior Apartments that opened in December in northwest Wichita.

Not only does her 800-square-foot apartment have her all of her top “must-have” items – such as a washer and dryer – the setting gives her peace of mind while costing less than she expected to pay.

“I wanted a place where I would feel like I was at home, and I do here,” she said. “It’s a small, intimate senior community where you can get to know your neighbors. It’s very resident-oriented, and the staff is so friendly and helpful.”

Services such as parking, a storage unit, housekeeping and meals are available if she wants them, but she isn’t forced to pay for them. In the industry, this type of housing is called “independent light” because it offers limited services.

Limited-service independent living is “a hot button because the traditional independent living products can cost 90 to 95 percent of what you would pay for assisted living when people are helping you bathe, dress and doing everything for you,” said Coryanne Graham, director of marketing and brand for Oxford Senior Living, a Wichita-based senior housing developer.

Oxford officials saw housing aimed at active seniors who wanted a la carte services working well in Dallas and Kansas City and decided to test it here. With headquarters here, Oxford Senior Living typically opens a new concept in the Wichita market before taking it to other communities where it operates in Texas and Oklahoma. The company’s first development in Kansas was the Glen Carr House, a memory care property in Derby, and in 2013, it opened Oxford Grand Assisted Living and Memory Care at NewMarket. Oxford Villa is on the same campus.

“So far, we’ve had an overwhelming response,” Graham said. “A lot of Wichitans are ready for maintenance-free living, but they still want to go out and live life. They want to go out to eat, they want to go out with friends, they want to travel, and they want to spend time with their family. In that traditional independent living model, those active seniors would be paying for services whether they’re there to use them or not.”

More housing options that allow seniors on fixed incomes to stretch their savings will help Wichita continue to develop as an age-friendly community, said Annette Graham, executive director of the Central Plains Area Agency on Aging. Her group provides information and resources for adults 60 and older, caregivers and people with disabilities. Their call center is seeing an increasing number of housing calls as 25 percent of heads of household in Sedgwick County are now 65 or older. What she sees lacking in Wichita’s senior housing market is options for mid- and low-income seniors.

“The one-size-fits-all approach to housing doesn’t fit anymore,” Graham said. “There’s a lot of variance in how people choose to live and how they choose to spend their money. As more and more people are living longer, they have to look at how they spend their resources to make them last during this phase of their life.”

Monthly rent at Oxford Villa starts below $1,000 and goes up to about $3,000, with a one-time community fee of $1,000 to $2,000 based on the size of apartment. Oxford Villa has 108 units across nine layouts, ranging from studio apartments to 1,400-square-foot apartments with two bedrooms and a den. As residents age and their needs change, they can add more services or, if needed, move to the Oxford Grand building, which has 77 assisted-living and memory care units.

Hansen relocated to Wichita from Kansas City, where she’d raised five children, to be closer to her two oldest daughters. She’d waited two years after her husband died to move into a senior facility in Kansas City. She lived there one year before moving to Wichita this winter.

She said she’s spending less on housing in Wichita. She especially likes that instead of a required daily meal plan, she has the freedom to cook or order a few prepared meals. She is thrilled, too, that there are daily activities she can help plan and participate in that not only give her social time with other residents but also get her out into the community for group shopping, entertainment and dining.

“I would encourage others my age, even if they’re not having health issues, to consider moving to independent living,” Hansen said. “It makes your life easier, and it was important to me to make these decisions about my life without putting my kids in the situation to force me to move because I needed to. I’m very happy and comfortable with my decision.”

Senior housing resources

By phone: The Kansas Aging and Disability Resource Call Center, 855-200-2372. Seniors or caregivers can call even if they don’t know what services they need. Resource specialists will talk through the issues the caller is facing.

By computer: offers an annual senior housing list covering Butler, Harvey and Sedgwick counties, compiled by the Central Plains Area Agency on Aging. Annette Graham, the executive director, advises that a call to the resource line is the best place to start.