Innovation in housing and services; investing in people, places and communities
Demographic change is one of the key drivers of housing demand and while much of the focus on housing has been on young people, there are issues at the other end of the age range, too. Indeed, ensuring there is sufficient housing will be increasingly important for planning with the Government committed by the Neighbourhood Planning Act to produce guidance for councils on addressing “housing needs that result for old age or disability”.
In terms of numbers, the Local Government Association’s (LGA) report, Housing Our Ageing Population cites an estimate that an additional 400,000 purpose built homes for older people will be needed by 2035. However, it is about more than just specialist housing. As the report puts it, it is “essential to look at all forms of housing”, and to “bridge across a niche market to the mainstream house building sector” if needs are to be met and more choices made available. Achieving building rates of the scale outlined in the LGA report will present challenges, but will also bring new investment into the fabric of towns and cities, providing opportunities to improve the physical environment and reshape places to better meet the
needs of the community. It will also be likely to provide and increasingly diverse range of opportunities for providers in the private and social sectors. Moreover, with construction a significant part of the West Midlands economy, the housing market for older people and adapting the existing housing stock to meet householders’ changing needs seems set to play an increasingly important role in that sector.
A later life house need not be a home
Looking at the potential scale of change, the LGA state that “only 0.6 per cent of over 65s live in housing with care ..10 times less than in more mature retirement housing markets such as the USA and Australia”. Highlighting the scope to enable people to live in their own homes for longer, the Industrial Strategy Commission considered innovation in housing care and “whether and how it is possible to break with the dominance of the care home model of institutionalised living”. Pointing out that “different models of domestic care provision can be found in other European countries and in the US”, they say these “should be studied in depth to learn more about their financial models and service provision”. Indeed, learning from these and other models may prove valuable if the potential in the Industrial Strategy’s commitment to “support care providers to adapt their business models to changing demands, encouraging new models of care to develop and flourish” is to be fully realised for the benefit of businesses, the economy, individuals and the community.
That is not to say that innovation is not already taking place. The LGA highlight numerous areas that have, for example, facilitated “care-ready” housing for people who want to downsize before they need care; made use of public sector land for older people’s housing; provided opportunities for older people to “right-size”, potentially freeing-up larger homes for younger families; and worked with private sector, retirement housing developers to create housing diversity to meet the different of needs of older home-owners. Other examples include, councils that have integrated housing and health responses enabling older people to return home, removing the hazards to reduce the likelihood of falls and hospital admission; and councils that have developed sensitively-designed housing aimed at people with complex care needs and/or people living with dementia. These innovations and more, involving the public, private and third sectors are pointers to the many new ways in which housing and care models might develop in the future.
As might be expected, changes are already happening in the open market. The LGA notes the “substantial increase in non-grant funded, private-sector retirement housing and housing associations rebranding and improving their older people’s offer by developing more “mid-market” choices, in particular targeted at a more affluent or “downsizer with equity” market”. Perhaps it is no surprise then, that the LGA talks about the need to bridge the gap from niche to mainstream housebuilding sector.
Illustrating some of the possibilities, the LGA sets out a number of case studies, including examples from Birmingham and Worcestershire.
Among the initiatives taking place in Birmingham, the City Council has been working with providers to think about “developing larger scale supported living environments” and have been having “progressive conversations about meeting needs differently”. A specific case study describes how developers have been encouraged “to develop, at their own cost, a younger adults supported living development into which is incorporated a short stay/respite care ‘hotel’.” The case study suggests a development that will be an important part of the city’s social and physical fabric, in that it will not only provide a variety of accommodation for different care needs, but commercial units for cafes and shops. The council is also investing in developing a community hub on site with a hydrotherapy pool, potential for a local children’s centre to relocate and a centre which residents and the wider community can use, offering art, music and meeting rooms.
In the case of Worcestershire, the County with its district and borough partners has developed a housing strategy for older and disabled people. Using demographic analysis and extensive consultations with older citizens, district council partners and providers from the private, social and charitable sectors, the “intention has been to shape and manage the market to maximise choice” for buyers and renters. The approach taken to stimulating the market has not been “overly prescriptive”, instead it seeks to encourage imaginative and innovative approaches from providers and developers.
By working with developers and social and private providers, among other things, they have identified viable sites for a mix of retirement housing, extra-care schemes and care villages, and an example of a successful housing development attractive to people living with dementia is highlighted. In terms of numbers, since 2014/15 the council has facilitated and/or supported seven housing schemes in the private sector creating 437 homes, with a further two schemes and 213 homes in the pipeline, and six housing association schemes bringing forward 407 homes, a quarter being for shared ownership. The case study notes a number of further schemes in development and the plans for several hundred more units of mixed-tenure, older people’s housing.