Senior housing occupancy reached a record low of 78.8 percent in the first quarter of 2021, falling 1.8 percentage points from the last quarter of 2020 and 8.7 percentage points from a year ago, according to new NIC (National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care) MAP data, powered by NIC MAP Vision.

Despite the success of vaccination efforts in seniors housing, the latest numbers mark the sixth consecutive quarter occupancy has declined, and the fourth since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“Senior housing residents have largely been vaccinated against COVID-19, which is dramatically reducing case counts and mortality rates, but this has not yet translated into a senior housing occupancy recovery,” said Chuck Harry, NIC’s chief operating officer.

“As move-in moratoriums continue to be lifted and operators get more inquiries from prospective residents, leads and property tours, occupancy may increase in the months ahead.”

The first quarter 2021 data show similar record low occupancy levels for assisted living and independent living properties. Assisted living occupancy fell a full two percentage points to 75.5 percent in the first quarter, and independent living occupancy dropped 1.6 percentage points to 81.8 percent. Since March 2020, assisted and independent living occupancy fell by 9.5 and 7.9 percentage points, respectively.

“It’s not surprising that a global pandemic and a specific virus that causes severe illness in older people is keeping senior housing occupancy at historic lows,” said NIC Chief Economist Beth Burnham Mace.

“It also is not surprising that occupancy improvement has not yet become evident since there is a natural lag between the time someone inquiries about moving into senior housing and the time that person actually moves into a property. Data from the next two quarters will signal whether consumers have moved beyond the pandemic and are again considering senior housing properties.”

Occupancy rates across metropolitan markets varied greatly. For example, San Francisco (84.2 percent), San Jose, Calif., (83.4 percent), and Seattle (82.9 percent) had the highest occupancy rates of the 31 metropolitan markets that encompass NIC MAP’s Primary Markets, while Houston (72.9 percent), Atlanta (73.5 percent), and Cleveland (74.2 percent) recorded the lowest.

Click here for the NIC Market Fundamentals report.