A national priority
More than 11 million people, 18.6% of the total population of England and Wales, are over the age of 65 (up from 16.4% in 2011)1, yet only 2.6% of the country’s housing stock is categorised as, and more importantly has been designed as, retirement housing (including housing with care)2. The Mayhew Review (2022) concluded that as many as 50,000 new homes targeted at older people are needed each year, up from the 7,000 currently built annually. Urgently needing to address the lack of supply and quality, last month nineteen industry experts were appointed to a brand-new Older People’s Housing Taskforce, charged with transforming older people’s housing.
Key to making the housing market work for older people is upholding older people’s rights by providing greater choice in where and how individuals choose to live. We think only a narrative of positive choice and empowering individuals, irrespective of their health and wealth circumstances, to think through their housing options, make informed decisions and take purposive action on where they live, will bring about the circumstantial and widescale transformation needed. In 2020 the Homes for Later Living research programme, concluded that around three million people over 65 want to move but are put off by the stress and lack of choice.
The negative health and wellbeing impacts of living in deficient, deteriorating, or just inappropriate housing is doubtless felt by individuals ‘getting by’ in unsuitable housing, not least as older people generally spend more time at home. In addition, the wider social implications, including public spending on adult social care and the NHS, and the availability of mid-sized homes on the property market are well documented. However, neither guilting households into selling up, nor waiting for their needs to force them to move, are good enablers of change or promote the intergenerational solidarity needed to build thriving communities.
We urgently need to increase the supply of affordable and desirable housing options, as well as the trusted advice and practical support to make the prospect of, as well as the moving process itself, both do-able and desirable. Housing designed for ‘last-time buyers’ typically prioritise homes which are safe, comfortable, low maintenance and within walking distance of key facilities, shared social spaces, and typically with a flexible on-site care offer.
A key challenge for the housing sector is that it’s been shown that 28% of over 50’s surveyed don’t want to be living in a community of older people3. Law firm Shakespeare Martineau authors of whitepaper Moving On: Could later living be the answer to the housing crisis, conclude that what is needed is ‘better education, information and marketing’ to convey the lifestyle benefits of retirement housing, but we’re unconvinced rebranding the same housing offer will suffice.
Diversity and choice
So, what might these 50,000 news homes a year suitable for older people look like? We’ve been working with charity Keychange to explore a range of possible typologies and ways of living, many based on different social-formations including faith-groups, multigenerational developments, multi-generational co-housing, self-build co-housing, contemporary alms-houses, as well as exemplar retirement communities. Many of these schemes reflect the HAPPI report, calling for homes which are ‘generously proportioned, of enduring quality and spiritually uplifting, all within empathetic neighbourhoods’. In this context the human experience of ‘place’, as a determinate of comfort, familiarly, social connectivity and personal identity are key.
We will continue to work with asset owners, housing commissioners and developers, to bring together specialist designers, health and social care providers, residents, and other stakeholders, to co-design innovative, integrated and attractive places and communities, that provide a wider range of housing options, suited to the contemporary and diverse wants and needs of our aging population. See for example the work we have been doing with charity Keychange. #LLTTF