New report calls for action on housing for older people

A new report has recommended that the design and development of new homes for older people must become a national priority if the UK is to avoid a future housing crisis. This also offers an exciting business opportunity for everyone involved in the housing industry.

The HAPPI (Housing our Ageing Population: Panel for Innovation) report calls for positive action in response to the UK´s ageing population and has been produced by a panel of experts, including Judith Torrington, from the University of Sheffield´s School of Architecture.

It has been launched today (4 December 2009) by the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA), in partnership with Communities and Local Government (CLG) and the Department of Health.

Currently, the over-fifty age group accounts for almost half of all consumer spending - 175 billion a year – and in terms of gross assets this group will have more wealth at its disposal than at any other time. In fact, homeowners aged over 65+ in England and Wales have 611 billion of equity in their property.

With the number of over 60 year-olds projected to increase by 7 million over the next 25 years and much of the UK´s existing housing stock inaccessible or unsuitable, the lack of good quality homes for older people is a real concern.

Understanding and implementing the value of good design in homes for older people means allowing them to stay at home for longer, and not only be more comfortable in their own homes but safer and more content. Homes for older people should be at the heart of existing places and communities, learning from the housing industry in Europe where apartment houses are a conventional part of urban culture and older people have experienced the benefits of greater security, less maintenance and shared community space.

The pressure these statistics and growing trends will place on housing provision for older people and by extension their health, well being and lifestyle is analysed by the government- sponsored HAPPI report, which makes an extensive series of recommendations including:

• The building of new homes for the ageing population becomes a priority for central government

• Local Authorities take the lead in co-ordinating new efforts by local housing providers and social and voluntary services to provide solutions to the problem

• Incentives for housebuilders and developers to develop new types of housing for this burgeoning market

• Housing Associations maximise the potential of high quality design and innovation in developing housing for older people

• For the RIBA,RICS, CABE and other professional bodies within the built environment to develop a strategy to promote knowledge development and incubate innovation in the design and procurement of housing for older people

• For architects to work with clients to develop innovative, high quality design solutions.

Judith Torrington, Reader in the School of Architecture, said: "We know that there will be an increase of 3.8 million people aged over 65 in the next 25 years. Much of our existing housing stock does not fit the needs of older people very well – though there are exceptions. We are likely to be `old´ for a long time, and homes are particularly important to older people because they tend to spend more time in them than anyone else. The challenge is to produce high quality, light, bright, spacious, attractive and supportive housing in accessible neighbourhoods that will help people to live rich and fulfilled lives in their old age."

The HAPPI panel is chaired by Lord Richard Best OBE, who stated:

"The HAPPI report urges all those who have a role to play in improving housing choice and quality for older people to start work now. This is a huge challenge, but also a great opportunity for the industry which needs to be tackled head on."

Tony Pidgely, Member of the HAPPI panel and Chairman of the leading urban regeneration group The Berkeley Group PLC, commented on the launch of the report:

"There is clearly no `one-size-fits-all´ solution. The provision of the right housing for older people will need to be addressed across a number of fronts. We can easily achieve early wins by addressing the new build element, but we will also need to address how we retro fit existing properties and create innovative new solutions for different types of homes, such as the `Golden Girls´ scenario. The possibilities are out there. We just need to ensure they happen."

This report is the culmination of extensive investigations by a panel of experts, including representatives of residents and champions of older people´s causes. The panel met residents, engaged with stakeholders, and visited developments in the UK and abroad that have delivered successful and innovative housing ideas.

Sir Bob Kerslake, Chief Executive of the Homes and Communities Agency said: "I am pleased that the HCA has been at the heart of this work as the ageing population is an issue we all need to take seriously and prepare for sooner rather than later. At the HCA, we will be looking closely at the recommendations the panel has made and will work with our partners to take some steps to address these."