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Strategy needed for housing older people

Strategy needed for housing older people

New Zealand needs a strategy to house its growing population of older people, say researchers from Victoria University's New Zealand Institute for Research on Ageing (NZiRA) and Business and Economic Research Ltd (BERL).

Associate Professor Judith Davey, Director of NZiRA, says the housing needs of older people cannot be separated from their care and support. The research was carried out on behalf of Centre for Housing Research Aotearoa/New Zealand.

"We need to be planning now to ensure that adequate and appropriate housing is available as the population ages. This will entail maintaining and upgrading the living conditions of older people in mainstream housing and developing a range of alternative housing options to meet special needs. These measures should target older people who lack the personal and financial resources to ensure adequate and appropriate housing without external help."

Associate Professor Davey says there is no single solution and a variety of responses will be needed.

"Specialised housing, including sheltered or extra-care housing, retirement villages and social villages will be part of the mix but the vast majority of older people in the future will be ‘ageing in place’ rather than in institutional care. People are going into rest homes later in life and at higher levels of disability. This means that a growing proportion of older people with special needs for care and support will remain living in the community."

But there is only limited assistance for older people who own their own homes and need help with maintaining and adapting them, she says.

"Retirement villages are an option for people with sufficient assets. But many low-income people have to rent and the demand for rental housing for older people will grow, especially if homeownership continues to decline. Pensioner housing stock is often old, in need of upgrading or unsuitable for current requirements. Some local authorities are selling off their housing, but others are upgrading. There is a range of voluntary agencies, generally religious and charitable groups, who provide housing care, but they need financial support and partnerships with public authorities."

New Zealanders need to ask who will take responsibility for developing housing for older people in the future, she says. "How could individuals and families, central government, local authorities, health authorities, voluntary agencies and the private sector work together to meet the housing needs of older people in the future?" Associate Professor Davey says new concepts should be examined to see if they are appropriate in the New Zealand context.

"These could include new forms of tenure such as shared ownership, equity release schemes, and emerging 'smart' technologies. This country could learn from overseas experience in terms of the design, form and location of housing developments. The 'social village' model could be useful to meet housing and care needs without cutting older people off from the rest of the community. This could be appropriate to meet the special needs of older Mâori and Pacific people."

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