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Can The Uk Provide More Housing Options For Seniors?

By Expert Author: Chris Westerman

England lags behind other countries in housing options for seniors. If there were alternatives, it could free up their larger homes for families to buy.

The fact that ageing Britons, a growing demographic, are staying in their homes longer than their predecessors is consternation to those who work to solve the problem of the housing shortage in the UK. They may hold sentimental reasons for staying where they raised their families, and that is largely the point: that their homes are appropriate for families with children, not one or two people only. If they were to move to smaller quarters, those homes could absorb more of the families who need a place to which to move.

But rather than decry the situation, one should consider how it actually presents an opportunity. To start, a survey of 1,500 people over age 60 by the Demos think tank found that 58 per cent of them were interested in downsizing from their existing homes, but that a lack of options or fear of moving to an unfamiliar environment held them back. For investors - such as joint venture partnerships that build homes and communities to help alleviate the country’s housing shortage - one avenue to consider includes a new type of housing that is more appropriate for the senior population.

For background, consider how the UK is out of sync with many other western societies where those options exist in greater proportion. In the U.S., as much as 17 per cent of the population over age 60 lives in some type of housing dedicated to the needs of the ageing individual. In New Zealand and Australia, it is 13 per cent. For the ageing citizens of the UK, 89 per cent of those over age 65 live in “mainstream housing,” with just five per cent living in institutions (residential care or nursing care).

But there are several voices offering a different vision, each suggesting a new approach to community planning and building:

Housing LIN, a UK-based organization that advocates for alternatives for elderly Britons, has conducted research and published papers that are intended to increase their options. For example, “Community Matters: Making our Communities Ready for Ageing - a Call to Action,” published in July 2014, suggests that housing and communities need to emphasise social life for seniors, but also that the building of new homes should take into account changing circumstances of residents as they age.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation advocates for continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs), which, while rare, are predicted to increase in the UK as the population ages. CCRCs are typically large-scale and cater to a mix of residents with tailored care to individual needs. They can include self-contained flats or bungalows, with healthcare and food services in additional to a wide range of social and leisure activities.

The Government’s “Housing Strategy for England” (November 2011; Department for Communities and Local Government) states that “New housing developments also need to make suitable provision for our ageing population in the long term. Ensuring a mix of property types, including Lifetime Homes, will help to provide the diversity and choice needed to support longer-term independent living.”

The Department for Communities and Local Government also published “Lifetime neighbourhoods” (December 2011), which argues for helping older people to live independently through creative approaches to design, housing, transport and green spaces that enable neighbourhoods to serve the full lifetime needs of its residents.

Of course, it will take capital and market incentives to satisfy the needs expressed in these reports. Who will build these communities? Will private land investment funds be the driver, or construction firms, or the Government? Will Government policy drive the economics for building such communities and their amenities?

Already REITs (real estate investment trusts) have begun to invest in such communities, just as they and institutional investors are developing to-let student housing. Investors certainly are interested in all types of opportunities that are created by the housing needs of the country - but are strongly advised to consult with an independent financial planner to identify which types of real estate investment works best for the individual.

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