Learning from intergenerational housing projects in the USA

Emma Garland
Emma Garland
PhD CIHM, Policy and Research Officer, Ongo Homes

In October I’ll be embarking on a four week trip to the USA to visit eight different intergenerational housing projects. The USA is a country that has really embraced intergenerational living and there are a multitude of schemes across the country. My trip is funded by a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship (opens new window) which provides a unique opportunity for British citizens to travel overseas to bring back fresh ideas and new solutions to today’s issues, for the benefit of others in the UK.

As previous blogs and papers on Housing LIN have highlighted, the youngest and oldest in our society are facing the greatest housing challenges today. Home ownership (opens new window) for young families has halved in some of Britain's leading housing markets since the 1990s and the extension of the shared room rate to under 35s (opens new window) coupled with the Local Housing Allowance rate freeze, is making rented homes virtually inaccessible in some parts of the country. At the same time, we have a rapidly ageing population who are ageing better and living longer, but for whom loneliness and isolation are real problems. Older people also have limited housing choice in terms of tenure, location, size, affordability and the type of care/support available. Perhaps intergenerational housing could provide an alternative solution to the problems faced by both groups?

Could intergenerational housing be a solution to the problems faced by older and younger people?

The concept of intergenerational housing is not well known in the UK and no purpose-built communities currently exist, although the trend is starting to shift as Wendy Griffin’s previous blog shows. Taking inspiration from similar projects already established in Deventer (opens new window) (Netherlands), Lyon (opens new window) (France), Chicago (opens new window) (Illinois) and Cleveland (opens new window) (Ohio), Cambridge is about to launch its Linkages (opens new window) project which will see PhD students move into a sheltered housing scheme. The UK is also about to get it’s first nursery inside a care home (opens new window) and Channel Four’s recent experiment Old People’s Home for Four Year Olds (opens new window) has brought this concept to the attention of the wider public. Again, this model takes inspiration from a similar scheme in Seattle (opens new window) (USA).

Although it’s not for everyone, the benefits of intergenerational living are clear. Developing planned co-housing with shared facilities and activities can create a sense of community where older people can benefit from reduced levels of loneliness and isolation, whilst improving their mood, confidence, physical strength, mobility, mental health and resilience to health problems. Younger generations can benefit too; they can draw on different generations for support (babysitting etc), experience a wider sense of family, gain access to affordable housing, show improvements in learning and employment skills, reduce the financial stress of university and have a potentially better living environment.

Despite these proven benefits, there is the perception that there will be friction between the generations as older people in their twilight years are harried by youths playing football or the screams of infants in prams. There is also the cost aspect to consider and worries around how, in practice, would such a purpose built community work? By visiting the USA I hope to answer some of these questions. I’m aiming not only to change attitudes and contribute to the debate about the type of housing we should be planning and building, but also to develop a ‘how to do intergenerational housing’’ toolkit that providers can learn from.

I’ll visit eight projects (opens new window) which have approached intergenerational living in different ways. At each of these projects I’ll interview staff and residents in order to build up a practical picture of:

  • how the housing provider approached planning, designing and building (i.e. costs involved, specific design features needed, how they met the requirements of both age groups)

  • how they 'work' in practical terms (i.e. what level/type of resources does the housing provider need to have in place and what ongoing costs are there, how do they ensure everyone is safeguarded, what allocation criteria are used, how do they assess suitability?)

  • what do staff and residents think are the main benefits and downsides, does the experience of living in the project differ to what they expected (and it is better or worse), how far do they feel a sense of community and how much activity is led by residents?

I really want my trip to be of practical use so I’d encourage people to check out my blog and to let me know the sort of things you’d like me to find out. I’ll also compile a final report at the end of my research which will be freely available via the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust web site.

To find out more about my trip, to track my progress or to ask any questions, please visit my blog: www.intergenerationalhousingblog.wordpress.com (opens new window), follow me on twitter @intergenhousing (opens new window) or you can e-mail me at: emma.garland@ongo.co.uk (opens new window)


Posted on by Louise Barker

Really interested in the research you are undertaking Emma, this type of project is 'right up my street' (no pun intended) as a local authority housing enabler! Good luck! I'm really interested to hear all about it!

Louise Barker

Posted on by Emma Garland

Hi Louise,

Thanks for your interest. My report should be ready by Spring 2018 but I'll keep my blog, vlog and twitter accounts updated in the meantime! :)

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