Housing and the ageing population

People over 65 currently make up some 35% of the population and in the period 2007 to 2021 their numbers are expected to double. While some of these will move into retirement homes, particularly as they become more frail with age, by far the greater majority are expected to take advantage of the strategy espoused by Governments of all levels of ‘Ageing in Place’. Implementation of this strategy for the large numbers of older people spread throughout the suburbs implies the provision of suitable housing and amenities, and access to the essential services required. This includes the public transport that will allow them to continue part-time employment and/or volunteering (more older people volunteer than any other age group), and also permit the delivery of those services.

As people age, there will be a proportion who do so in the family home, possibly with family care. However, of the 10-12% living with their families, there is evidence that many would prefer some other option. There are many others who will need to downsize, and this includes not only the homeowner but also those in rental properties. In all cases, the availability of a pool of public housing which incorporates universal design features is vital. Downsizing to a Retirement complex remains an option, but by far the majority of older people prefer to live in a mixed community.

It would obviously be better both from the point of view of the older person and the providers of essential services were some concentration of residents into clusters possible. In this respect the following observations are made:

  • The needs of active older people are similar to other residents i.e. access to large shopping centres with cafes and open spaces, cinemas, further education (U3A), support groups (60 and Better), swimming pool, gym, library, sporting facilities, medical and dental facilities, community meeting rooms, etc.
  • A priority issue, not just for access to the above, but also for those in part time work or volunteers is feeder bus services operating through the suburbs to the major public transport nodes.
  • Older people do not need multi-bedroom, mega-bathroom developments, rather a complex might include smaller units on one or more floors incorporating universal design principles, with other much more expansive units on the floors above.
  • The optimal solution is for any movement out of the family home, irrespective of the type of new accommodation chosen, to be into the same suburb close to family, friends and support groups. The smaller development featuring a mix of dwelling types as an ‘in fill’ in established suburbs is an option well worth supporting.
  • As with all Australians, older people have a wide variety of backgrounds and aspirations; there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to the housing problem and in consequence a variety of options needs to be made available.
  • Like the rest of the community, older people have freedom of choice, and will choose their abode for any number of factors, not necessarily because of the universal design features.
  • Perceptions change with age so it is important to consult with older people.

One very promising and popular new initiative has recently come to notice in Ryde, in the northern suburbs of Sydney. A shopping centre has been demolished and is being rebuilt, but with several floors of public housing above. There are other similar developments in Sydney and the concept is not unlike Emporium in the Valley. In many suburbs of Brisbane there are shopping centres spread over a large area but with only one or two stories. Were these to be rebuilt with multiple floors of public housing, including supportive older peoples housing, and possibly affordable housing, together with meeting rooms, it could prove quite an attractive solution. Most shopping centres include Medical Centres as well as other services, have cafes and restaurants and are surrounded by gardens and open areas. Such a cluster development would also concentrate clientele for HACC, Bluecare and other essential services rather than being spread through the suburb.

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