The demographic profile of the population shows that we are ageing. The number of people over the age of 65 is rising fast and at the same time we are living longer.
This shift in demographics is a major contributory factor to the funding crisis we face in the NHS and the shortfall in the supply of family homes.
A combination of our Cultural attitude to ‘housing as an investment’ and a severe shortage of attractive properties for downsizing, has resulted in couples and single people over 65 under occupying family homes at an unprecedented level. It is estimated that there are currently 25 million unoccupied bedrooms in our housing stock and that under-occupancy levels have doubled over the past 10 years. Without intervention to address these issues head-on, they will escalate.
Many local authorities have an oversupply of poor quality sheltered housing stock built in the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s. This oversupply is very probably related to the fact that many older people, even if socially isolated and needing care, would rather stay put in their family home than move into poor quality accommodation characterised by bedsit apartments (in some instances with shared bathrooms); accessibility issues; expensive to heat due to poor/no insulation and with neighbours that might include homeless people, drug users, alcoholics, mental health groups etc.
Housing strategy for older people, such as it exists, recognizes the desire of the great majority of older people to stay put in their homes in the community where they can receive care and support from a range of different agencies including LA Adult Services, voluntary sector providers and private care operators.
There is also a recognition that ‘staying put’ does not work for everybody; social isolation can become a major problem; much of our existing housing stock is unsuitable for older people ageing in place and the costs of caring for older people with dementia and other long term conditions in the community can become prohibitive. New housing provision for older people is therefore needed alongside supporting the majority in their own homes.
In recent years, most of the new housing for older people developed by the voluntary ‘not-for-profit’ sector has been Extra Care accommodation that offers ‘independent’ living with substantial communal and care & support facilities.
The Extra Care model has become increasingly challenged in terms of viability and its original concept for active communities of older people with a range of age and dependency levels has often been undermined by increasingly being allocated to people with high care needs. The proportion of communal space to net residential is becoming unaffordable and in reality, much of this space is under-used by residents, particularly where there are existing services in the local area. Individual Budgets have also undermined some of the efficiencies that can be achieved through having a single care provider on a site.
In response, Extra Care projects have become larger (a minimum of 50 but often with around 100 or more apartments rather than 40 which used to be the norm) and communal facilities are in some instances being limited in scale and being located at the interface with the wider community so that they become more of a community resource. Alternative financial models are being adopted so that commercially viable restaurants, hairdressing and other facilities can cater for both residents and the wider community.
In response to the changes in the political and funding landscape, those developing new housing for older people are adapting to these new circumstances.
Emerging trends would suggest that we are starting to see a move away from the development of Extra Care housing with its costly and extensive communal facilities towards more independent living (less institutional) ‘lifestyle’ focussed housing on the one hand and more care-focussed institutional products for much higher care needs, on the other.
Much more emphasis will be placed on the location of new developments to ensure that they are close to the heart of their residential communities to enable older people to keep in touch with family and friends.
They will rely very much more on their context/immediate neighbourhood in terms of access to a range of facilities. Therefore, the scale of new development becomes much less of an issue as the financial burden of extensive communal facilities is lifted.
Communal facilities can be minimised by providing a multi-functional space for socialising, a domestic kitchen and staff office.
This trend aligns well with the aspirations of the new generation of ‘Baby Boomer’ for whom any institutional associations are likely to be taboo.
We have been gaining experience in the area of older person accommodation over the past 15 years, working with Local Authorities and other Social Housing Providers. PSW therefore has invaluable knowledge when it comes to the design and the pitfalls of delivering homes for older people.
We are currently working on a project with MHS Homes to deliver 55 self contained units by October 2021 along with various communal facilities.
We are also working with Stevenage Borough Council and have been appointed to act as Principal Designer, Employers Agent and Clerk of Works to deliver 88No. self-contained flats which is part of a larger scheme and which includes a whole host of facilities.
We regularly seek client feedback as part of our Quality Management procedures and here are some recent comments.