I think it is fair to say that the Housing for an Ageing Population: Panel for Innovation (HAPPI) has made a difference.
(The name first suggested for our initiative was the Panel for Innovation on Supported and Sheltered Older People’s Housing. But the acronym of ”PISSOPH” did not sound quite as inviting as “HAPPI”!)
Four Prime Ministers ago, Gordon Brown – via the then Homes and Communities Agency – sent the HAPPI team to seven EU countries where, sadly for us, we saw how poorly the UK compared with our neighbours. Thanks to our organiser, David Birkbeck (Design for Homes), we visited inspiring developments and met dozens of elderly residents.
HAPPI’s initial focus was on design. Leading architects – most prominently PTE, Levitt Bernstein and PRP – collaborated to create the HAPPI guidance and its dissemination. I do believe this has significantly raised standards for developments tailor-made for older people, not least through inspiring the annual HAPPI Design Awards that continuously showcase brilliant examples. What a contrast to the bog standard, pattern-book output of the volume house builders.
Up and down the country there are now a wonderful range of beautifully designed projects for retirement housing, extra-care/assisted living and retirement communities. I conclude that HAPPI’s initial aim – to demonstrate the way of great design of homes for later life - has, with the occasional aberration, been fully achieved.
However, our HAPPI ambitions went further. We wanted to encourage a very considerable growth in the numbers of new homes for the older population. The social and financial arguments for this are compelling. Age-friendly homes improve health and wellbeing, prevent accidents, enable discharge from hospital, postpone the need for residential care and address the twin issues of under occupation and over-crowding/homelessness. Yet, set against demand for at least 30,000 p.a. new homes for this age group, actual output is nearer 7,000 additional homes. Why this startling mismatch?
The problem is that the UK house building industry, dominated by an oligopoly of large companies, concentrates on the mass production of houses and flats for younger households. These volume house builders crowd out and outbid those who seek to serve a different market.
Younger purchasers have been heavily subsidised through the Government’s Help to Buy scheme and most first-time buyers also get exemptions from Stamp Duty. Moreover, younger buyers are very often in urgent need, keen to leave expensive privately rented property or the parental home. By contrast, the older customer will be harder to please and less tolerant of low standards of design, poor workmanship, the absence of storage space.
Output by the social landlords – with Councils now encouraged to build again, alongside the housing associations – also concentrates almost exclusively on the younger age groups. The urgency generated by acute shortages means the huge demographic change in every community is largely ignored by these providers.
As the series of HAPPI reports commissioned by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Housing and Care for Older People have consistently demonstrated, Government needs to take action. We need a level playing field for the development of retirement housing/retirement communities and funding streams need to ensure the social housing sector once again builds to meet the requirements of an ageing population.
To view all the HAPPI reports, visit the Housing LIN’s dedicated ‘design hub’ And to also read the reflections of Julia Park, Patrick Devlin and Matthew Barac in this series about ten years of HAPPI, visit the Housing LIN’s blogs page.