​Ahead of the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, seniors housing occupancy decreased slightly to 87.7 percent in the first quarter of 2020, according to the latest data from NIC MAP Data Service (NIC MAP), which is part of the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC).

NIC experts said although occupancy was relatively stable leading up to the coronavirus outbreak in March, the impact of COVID-19 is not yet evident in the data.

Overall, seniors housing occupancy averaged 87.7 percent during the first quarter of 2020, down 20 basis points from the prior quarter. The occupancy rate for independent living properties and assisted living properties averaged 89.9 percent and 85.3 percent during the first quarter of 2020, respectively.

First quarter occupancy rates for independent living decreased 10 basis points from the prior quarter. Assisted living occupancy rates also decreased 20 basis points from the prior quarter, NIC said. The latest numbers mean assisted living occupancy remained above its recent record low of 85.1 percent one year earlier.

The occupancy rate for mostly nursing care properties averaged 86.7 percent in the first quarter of 2020.

Additional data from the first quarter show San Jose, Calif. (95.0 percent), and San Francisco (91.5 percent) with the highest occupancy rates of the 31 metropolitan markets that comprise NIC MAP’s Primary Markets, while Houston (82.1 percent) and Atlanta (82.7 percent) recorded the lowest.

NIC MAP’s Primary Markets saw 17,062 new construction starts in the past four quarters, the fewest new starts since 2014. Experts say it may be a harbinger of what’s to come, during a period when social distancing and mandatory stay-at-home orders are preventing new construction in many areas.

“Data from the first quarter will be an important benchmark moving forward in these unprecedented times, with occupancy and construction starts challenged by circumstances beyond anyone’s control,” said Chuck Harry, NIC’s chief operating officer.

“The industry’s first priority is to ensure that frontline caregivers are in the best possible position to address the health and safety of residents, as well as their own well-being and that of their families.”

Despite the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in March, NIC’s weekly Executive Survey of industry leaders shows one-half to two-thirds of senior care organizations reported no change in March aggregate occupancy rates.

“The deceleration in assisted living property construction starts foreshadows a further slowdown in new seniors housing development associated with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Beth Mace, NIC’s chief economist. “Many finance and capital providers are waiting for more clarity on how the pandemic will play out to understand what impact it will have on the broader economy.”