Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Housing the elderly

I am sure that I have discussed this in different ways in previous posts but many of these points bear repeating.  The 'elderly' do not form one homogenous group and I might be accused of making unhelpful generalisations in what I am suggesting should be part of housing strategies around the country.  I noticed a headline that loneliness was responsible for more premature deaths than the winter cold. That is clearly a sign of social malaise that goes with the figures of elderly who are afraid to go out for fear of falling.

What I hear is that sheltered housing is losing popularity, and extra-care is affordable to very few. I also heard a spokesman for the elderly say that housing should be provided that is suitable for but not dedicated to the elderly. Many do not want to live just with the elderly and feel institutionalised. Downsizing should be made desirable and not when it is unavoidable. In fact small (ie two bed) dwellings would also be more affordable for new households.

Given that there is an unsustainable level of under-occupation in the suburban and rural areas where about 80% of us live most if not all new housing should be aimed at re-balancing the size of houses and households. Whilst new households might be moving from  accommodation with parents of housemates and have relatively few personal possessions, the elderly downsizing from large houses face the problem of what to keep and what to part with. A bigger problem is what to do with the spare cash.

DanthePlan's response to all these issues is co-housing.  The incidental companionship intrinsic to co-housing would reduce the incidence of loneliness (for young and old).  The common house and other shared spaces would allow those downsizing to contribute furniture, games, musical instruments, garden equipment, books recorded music etc.   If, for instance, the downsizing individual or couple were selling a 4 bedroomed house for £500k and investing £250k in their new co-housing unit, the balance could also be invested in a similar unit that could then be rented out and the tenants could pay rent and staircase to provide an income to the holders of the equity in that unit or the scheme as a whole.  If a greater amount of sharing is an inevitable consequence of increasingly scarce and more expensive resources (ie sharing might soon be the only way that many young people will be able to afford to drive or have a garden or have access to a piano ) then would it not be sensible for planners to facilitate this trend.  Small terraced housing (with a southern aspect) should become the standard housing model with a common house and shared garden areas.  Housing associations might need to take the lead for this to be delivered at scale.  There might be some limited scope for some new towns (garden cities?) but the emphasis should be to concentrate the scarce resource of new housing on socialising existing settlements. Planners should also be supportive of developments (subdivision of properties and building of or conversions to commonhouses) in existing built up areas.

I would end by saying that the development and then mimicry of co-housing schemes cannot happen fast enough for a commissioner of health services for the elderly.

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