Later living: encouraging development

'That's All Right'

Forgive the Elvis song references but the baby boomers, who were born when Elvis released his first song, ‘That’s All Right’, will need a wider range of downsizing options than currently provided in the market. The later living sector must go through a Build to Rent-inspired transformation to offer a sense of community, amenities and better, more bespoke levels of care. These schemes will undoubtedly be the right places that baby boomers choose to rent or buy, not ones that they are forced to live in. 

Currently, only 2% of the UK’s homes are designated as retirement accommodation, according to the Urban Land Institute. A more striking figure is that since 2015, there were no planning consents for specialist older persons housing in 14 boroughs in London. 

‘Working on the Building’

The lack of affordable housing for young first-time buyers is also all over the news and currently sits at the top of the political agenda. But the UK faces an equally severe challenge for the more senior segment of the population, where many elderly downsizers feel there isn’t an attractive option for them and remain tethered to their family home. Not only does this lead to social isolation and loneliness, it also slows down the housing market and exacerbates the current crisis. 

As recognised in the recent CLG Select Committee report ‘Housing for Older People’ (opens new window), an essential part of the solution to the housing crisis is therefore building suitable accommodation for Britain’s ageing population, which is set to rise exponentially over the next few decades. The UK’s demographic shift must be addressed now, before it is too late. By 2066, a quarter of the population will be over 65, and the growth of the elderly population will be three times faster than that of the population as a whole.

‘There is No Place Like Home’

This lack of development has stunted the growth of a dedicated later living sector, meaning that many elderly people have stayed up and continued to live in large family homes, sometimes on their own. 

The baby boomers are no small market as they have a combined property wealth of over £1,200 billion which could be redirected into an emerging later living sector, freeing up homes for younger families in the process. It is estimated that for every one elderly family-house downsizer, it frees up to eleven homes in the chain.  

‘Suspicious Minds’

There are other reasons to support elderly people’s later living lifestyle. A huge problem facing baby boomers is loneliness, with one million people aged over 65 saying that they experience loneliness in their own homes. Despite this, they are unwilling to move to senior accommodation due to the poor quality of the existing stock and the negative connotations that surround it. 

‘All Shook Up’

Convincing our ageing population to downsize will require a change of image. As recognised in a recent Housing LIN PRS briefing (opens new window), lessons can be drawn from the Build to Rent sector, where high quality design and bespoke services for residents has disrupted housing, pulling up the quality of stock and positioning renting as an aspirational lifestyle choice. 

"Convincing our ageing population to downsize will require a change of image."

However, private sector development of later living housing is hindered by complex and outdated planning rules. Use classes are often too rigid in their categorisation, forcing later living developments into classes that may not fit and, thereby, minimising their potential within the UK market. The recent London Plan also failed to deliver in this regard. Greater clarity over use classes, housing targets for age group or even policy initiatives to get the private sector to step up and address the later living need. 

The costs associated with later living, such as providing extra care housing, are higher than those associated with other residential developments. Planning authorities must align affordability and viability to the specific residential tenure in order to deliver more later living homes for our growing elderly population.

‘Any Day Now’

The later living sector faces some challenges but it is a huge opportunity for the property industry. What’s clear though is that we need to act now because we aren’t getting any younger.

"It is estimated that for every one elderly family-house downsizer, it frees up to eleven homes in the chain"Follow Keith on Twitter - @keith_brooks87 (opens new window)
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