Over ten years on, after five significant reports, annual HAPPI Design Awards, this first ever HAPPI Awareness Week next week, and hard work from our APPG on Housing and Care for Older People, are we winning? Is there now a widespread acceptance of the value to older citizens, younger families, and to the NHS and social care providers, of creating tens of thousands of purpose-built age-friendly new homes?
Sadly, the figures speak for themselves: in 2010 the nation built 28,000 retirement homes of all kinds and tenures; last year the figure was down to 7,000. While demographic change is all around us, a shift in attitudes, and action, toward more ‘right-sizing’ continues to be illusive.
What about COVID? The pandemic has affected older people most prominently, not just in deaths and hospitalisations, but in the loneliness of those suffering in isolation. Clear lessons emerge: the importance of preventing or postponing any move into institutional residential care; the necessity of good design, a proper balcony and some communal green space outside; the benefits to mental health and wellbeing of a place where there is companionship and opportunities for positive social interaction and the peace of mind of having help at hand for everything from the plumbing to the internet. But it remains in the balance whether people recognise all the gains from moving to retirement accommodation or feel better with their existing extra space and garden.
What will lead us to the tipping point where moves are a natural process, not a response to a health crisis?
To unlock a flow of accommodation exclusively for the older generation, something special is needed. At present housebuilders make more money constructing housing for less discerning younger buyers, often far from the town centre that is better suited for older people. And the housing associations and Councils have concentrated on family housing because this is where the urgency – from homelessness, to young people in unaffordable rented homes – is most acute. Yet building for older people achieves ‘2-for-1’ with the release of much needed houses for the next generation.
Despite the Planning White Paper being virtually silent on this issue, planners can make the difference by requiring a proportion of new homes in every major development to be for older people, and by allocating specific sites exclusively for those over pension age. To give older homeowners a special incentive to make a move, our APPG has advocated Stamp Duty relief, as for first time buyers. And to bolster the extremely low level of social housing output for this age-group, Homes England and the GLA need to top-slice a solid 10% of the Affordable Homes Programme to achieve all these extra social, health and financial advantages.
We have the tools. We need the will to use them. The happiness of so many depends upon the UK rising to this demographic challenge.
Get inspired and view all the HAPPI reports on the Housing LIN’s dedicated ‘design hub’ pages.
And for more about the first ever HAPPI Awareness Week (w/c 7 December 2020) go to: https://www.housinglin.org.uk/News/HAPPI-Awareness-Week-2020/ and/or tweet you examples of your inspirational HAPPI influenced developments @HousingLIN (opens new window) #HAPPIweek (opens new window)