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Putting Age Friendly Principles into Practice - 3 Housing

WoZoCo - Oklahoma in Amsterdam is a highly original apartment complex of 100 units for the elderly built in the 1950s and 1960s


Ageing at Home

Manchester City, an Age – Friendly City, has done the most comprehensive work on Housing for an ageing population that I’ve seen. It recognises that “that poor housing, unsuitable housing and precarious housing circumstances affect our physical and mental health” and looks at housing  issues such as inequality, affordability and accessibility at all stages of life. There is extensive research, planning, and establishing co -operation between many stakeholders such as Government departments, builders and the School of Architecture, as well as senior citizens themselves.

It also covers a broad and inclusive range of options from Ageing at Home, which, while being much cheaper than institutional care and far better for the health and well-being of the elderly themselves, does require provision for modification and maintenance, right through to the provision of various kinds of care settings. Importantly it also recognises the need for energy efficiency and adequate heating as well as other environmental concerns. 

As the research by The City of Manchester points out, 1 in 5 deaths during winter are due to cold housing. Age UK has lots of tips on making homes safer and more comfortable for people with all kinds of conditions. Universal Design has also done a lot of work on Age – Smart dwellings including making them suitable for people with dementia.

The USA seems to have excellent programs for covering the cost of improving the energy efficiency of homes, home repairs and safety for low -income earners. It also gives those who are elderly or disabled priority. International Non - Profit Habitat for Humanity's US branch offers seniors a range of repair and modification services to enable them to age at home.

The UK does it via Age UK and Australia through various government departments, though patchily and not as a high priority. Here's a clip of an elderly woman receiving a visit from Age UK's Repair Service. The service not only makes minor adjustments and suggestions to improve her comfort, but she also appreciates their visit on a personal level.




 Homesharing  is another option for those who have room in their home and don’t want to downsize or move into a different location. It provides both companionship and affordable housing in exchange for household tasks or in some cases some care arrangements. The US listings are full of agencies offering to match elderly home owners with suitable tenants. The UK has 11 such programs which revolve more around caring. Europe is also well represented. To find out what’s available in other countries see Homeshare International here. 


The Canadian model is interesting because it matches high school students with the elderly. In exchange, students do seven hours of light housework. In the matching process, background checks are done by social workers, who provide ongoing support, follow -ups and mediation. 

Regardless of the form which it takes, homesharing means that there is usually some companionship and always someone on site should the elderly person suffer a stroke or a fall.

Moving rather than Improving

The advantage of staying in place, is that people do not lose their social connections. The disadvantage is that many older houses with steep stairs and so on, are simply not suitable for elderly people. Manchester found for example, that only 9% of rental properties were up to scratch. One of the things Manchester is doing is to make new builds already senior -proof – with wide doorways, easy access and technology such as automatic lighting and a variety of sensors to detect changes in health, for security and so on. Universal Design Principles  are about building for everyone, regardless of age, size, ability or disability. When people do have to move to a new area there are ways of creating connection. Adequate transport is one or having facilities which are open to the public as well is another, such as the facility in Aalborg has - see more below.

Co -housing

Co -housing mentioned previously, is on the rise because it offers both companionship and independence. It is especially popular with singles, another growing demographic -Manchester for example, expects that number to rise to 33.7% of its population by 2035. Co housing now comes in a great variety of flavours. Just looking through some of  US listings, there are Co -housing communities developing around all kinds of interests such as the arts, sustainability and performing arts and for all kinds of specific groups such former veterans, firemen and postal workers, or especially for the LGBT community. Yet others are for members of specific cultures e.g. older Jewish people, or are multicultural. There’s one in Canada for Japanese -Canadians for example, another for South East Asian Indians. It must be reassuring to be able to stay where people observe the same customs or speak your language and it almost guarantees common ground.

Also of interest are the inter -generational ones. The City of Portland in Oregon, for example, which has been an Age Friendly City since 2006, had becoming a place for all generations as one of its major aims particularly with respect to housing and transport. Among a number of other initiatives, it has an interesting co -housing project in which it provides reduced rent for seniors in exchange for volunteering time with adoptive families  for whom they provide baby -sitting for example, or reading or music. 

The Granny Flat

Another way of achieving this and still retaining independence, for those with the means and the space, is through building a granny flat – a self -contained unit on the same property and having one’s children or others live in the main house. One of the advantages is that the new building can accommodate all the age friendly features such as level floors, stepless entry, improved surfaces, larger toilet cubicle and so on. It also allows proximity to loved ones or grandchildren, including baby -sitting or childcare, so it can work both ways. An interesting US development here is the age -friendly transportable cottage which can be reused and relocated. I've just had a quick look at the pages for Australia and it's obvious that this industry is booming. Be aware however, that what you are allowed to build varies a lot from state to state and in Tasmania's case, each local council makes its own rules, so check out the building regulations where you are before rushing to order.

Affordable Housing

 According to research from Manchester and elsewhere, poverty is the greatest determinant of health in later life and therefore also quality of life and longevity and nowhere is growing inequality more physically evident than in housing. Senior women are more affected by poverty for a variety of reasons. Many women of older generations did not work outside the home. Pension schemes for ordinary workers did not start in countries such as Australia and Canada until the 1980s, and what pensions or savings pensioners may have had, are simply no longer enough to meet the rising costs of living. People are also living longer, especially women, and others, again, especially women, find themselves homeless after being widowed or divorced. It is little wonder that affordable housing is a key plank of many Age -friendly cities.

Age - friendly Ottawa for example, has added 131 affordable housing units for older people and approved 104 older people for Its Ontario Renovates Program. It also provided older residents on low incomes with carbon monoxide detectors, smart burners and smoke alarms. 

Retirement Villages

With a little help many older people will be able to stay in their own homes for much longer, but in later years, most will need extra support. Retirement Villages with some medical oversight are a good but expensive option, often requiring seniors to put in extra money as well as the value of their home into a leased property. Although they allow residents considerable independence and often have great facilities such as golf courses and coffee shops, it usually means being surrounded by people of similar age. Fortunately things are changing here too.

Integrating Aged Care, Technology and Social Participation

A new state of the art Nursing Home in Aalborg, Denmark, incorporates public communal spaces and publicly accessible facilities such as a fitness centre, a restaurant, a cyber -cafĂ©, a dental practice, and a public library. Unlike the previously mentioned smaller care homes, it has opted for a larger size – 65 beds, to give people more choice as to whom they associate just as they would in normal life. The other interesting feature of this development is the high use of technology. Tablets allow instant access to a range of activities and services. Devices like lifts and bidets allow people to manage day -to day tasks such as hygiene independently, but pressure sensitive floors will automatically alert staff in case of a fall or a stroke. This leaves much more time for hands - on care by physiotherapists and other clinicians. 

Read more on housing options for seniors here and for more on housing in an Age -Friendly world see the excellent Guardian article on this topic here

Keeping Cool

One thing we will need to look at in future is provision of additional cooling, preferably without adding to energy costs. Heat stress is already proving deadly as our summers get hotter. While hot days could indeed power solar panels for air conditioning and newbuilds could have passive cooling features such as ponds, breezeways and light coloured roofs, there are inexpensive options too. These include things like having insulated curtains to keep out extreme heat or having shutters on the outside of the building for the same reason. Lockable louvres could provide greater airflow.  A nice idea I saw on the AARP (USA) pages, was a charity that donates fans to the elderly - something which could easily be replicated. 

At the city level, I have seen only one reference to covered walkways - good for keeping people out of the rain too, and there is tree planting of course, but the provision of 'cool rooms' - places in the city where the elderly and vulnerable can go to get relief from the heat, will surely become more urgent if most people are expected to age at home.

Disclaimer: Apart from Goods or Services I have tried, I can't speak for the quality of any goods or services mentioned. Nor do I receive any remuneration or reward for mentioning them. I list them for interest only. Check them out thoroughly or discuss with family or friends first to see if they suit your needs and are value for money.

Next: Principles into Practice - 4 Social Participation