What can we do about Australia’s senior housing crisis?

Just like the rest of us, older Australians are also affected by the country’s current housing crisis. In April, I wrote an article looking at the difficulties facing older people – from single older women who face the threat of homelessness, to couples sitting on multi-million dollar homes they can’t maintain or afford, frightened of selling given how it may affect their pensions (admittedly the nicer of the two problems to have).

This month, in Part II of this series, I explore possible solutions. Here are four things that may assist with solving what’s now being recognised as a real – and worsening – problem affecting many older Australians.

Affordable retirement communities.

There was a time – not so long ago – where the thought of a retirement community conjured up notions of large gates, expansive grounds, housed with wealthy, middle class couples. These places were not accessible to just anyone. You had to have a reasonable amount of money to afford to live there.

Whether this is true or not (and some argue it is a misconception), it is certain that in 2017 there are retirement communities to suit nearly all budgets. With independent living units ranging in price from less than $100K to well over the one million dollar mark, it’s a highly varied market.

But many older Australians are not aware of the genuine affordability of these communities. Nor are they aware of the many health and social benefits that come from retirement living.

It is important that the accessible price points of respective villages and developers, are well communicated to older Australians. And– more importantly – to their financial advisors, who often relied on to help them make the move. Better still would be an educated network of referrers that understands the full-picture of economic, health and social outcomes for these individuals as they make their choice. Incentives for downsizing will also go a long way in assisting people to make better choices.

At Ellis Jones, we work (and have worked) with Australia’s leading retirement providers. Successful communications and marketing in this unique space (which straddles health, ageing, community development, and property and infrastructure) comes down to the development of specific models and frameworks for communication that cuts through.

Co-designing purpose built spaces.

The idea of co-design is an obvious one when it comes to any group living situation; from retirement villages, to new housing developments; it makes sense to ask the people who will be living and using the space to contribute to designing it.

And while the design method is growing in practice, it is far from common place, which is disappointing given the successful communities it can create. The Older Women’s Studio Development Project is a recent co-design project that aimed to create best practice guidelines around the living situations of older, single women in inner Sydney. This is certainly a step in the right direction, but more can be done.

For communities that are already built and funded – such as the many retirement communities throughout Australia – turning to residents to help create their ideal community can be an instrumental competitive difference in what is a crowded market. More importantly, the people who live there benefit from a community they have helped design, which of course improves the overall livability of the village.

A good example of this is the a new $1b retirement in southern Queensland, which used recent research and consultation with potential residents, to incorporate a childcare centre into the village. It follows similar examples overseas, where the many positive benefits of interacting with with younger generations, especially children, have been demonstrated in co-located aged care with childcare or kindergartens. While this may not be the obvious choice for an over 55s community, or right for every community, through co-design you can work out what is. And at the same time pre-condition your potential market for a highly differentiated new product, with evidence showing that waitlists, pre-sales, and higher yields are often generated as a result.

Co-housing; it’s not just for ‘alternative’ types.

Be honest. When you read co-housing, did you immediately begin thinking of a scene from 1970s California? Well, if so – forget what you think you know about co-housing. In an increasingly expensive country, it’s a viable option for many older Australians who want a strong sense of community, but on their own terms.

Co-housing can take many forms, but increasingly, it refers to older people living together – possibly in an apartment block, a large house, or multiple houses built around shared facilities.

Co-housing revolves around the creation of a small community of homeowners who share, perhaps, a common space and common land. On the face of it, that might not sound too different to a strata title development, a retirement village or a “lifestyle park” populated with pre-fab chalets, cabins and the like. The difference is that the homeowners in a co-housing venture co-design their living environment and intentionally create the community they  want to become part of.
– Ray Sparvell, Domain.com.au

Co-housing can also refer to seniors living in multi-generational homes. While a traditionally European trend, homes are increasingly being designed with three generations in mind. Once, a ‘multi-generational’ home may have simply meant that a grandparent was living in a spare bedroom, or a granny flat. However, with architects and builders now seeing an increased demand for these kinds of houses, multi-generational homes are now being constructed to include a primary residence for the younger family (and their children), and a smaller, attached home for the grandparents, which may include its own entry, kitchen, bedroom and living space.

Incentives for downsizing. 

There are many older people living in huge houses on large blocks across Australia’s cities, houses that are difficult to maintain, and costly to run. They are the kinds of homes on big blocks, that would likely sell for a hefty sum at auction. However, for many pensioners, it’s this high price tag that’s stopping them from selling their home, as they worry about how the sale may negatively affect their pension. The recent budget announcement that people aged 65 and older will, from 2018, be able to make non-concessional contributions of up to $300,000 from the sale of their home, is a welcome change.

Retirement is a unique sector, that requires a knowledge of the health, ageing, community development and property industries – all of which Ellis Jones understands well.  Talk to us.