What seniors want instead of retirement villages and how to achieve it

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Caroline Osborne, University of the Sunshine Coast and Claudia Baldwin, University of the Sunshine Coast

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into sharp focus the need for connection to our local community and the health challenges of the retirement village model.

We know that, as we age, most people prefer to stay in their own homes and communities instead of moving to retirement villages. Some have gone so far as to say retirement villages have had their day. However, the reality is not quite that simple.

The challenge is that seniors are not well informed on what they could demand of the market. Planning schemes could also do more to create incentives for the changes we need now.

The challenges are complex and urgent as the global population grows and ages. Yet our housing supply reveals a bad case of the tail wagging the dog. Finely tuned financial models and development processes are driving the housing products available in the market.

What’s needed instead is adaptable housing and neighbourhoods to help people as they move through life’s stages.

Are the days of the retirement village numbered?
Many individuals and families struggle to find the right ‘fit’ between the supported living options of retirement villages, independent living lifestyle villages and staying in the (often unsuitable) family home as their needs change.

Such villages offer viable products in the market as an important part of the housing mix. The models have some advantages in that they:

  • are thoroughly costed and provide a good return for developers

  • offer a range of living options to suit most budgets and level of care needs

  • promise security, activities and a sense of community.

Seniors are best placed to say what they need
However, our research with seniors in south-east Queensland revealed a desire to ‘age in neighbourhood’ and to have neighbourhoods with a mix of ages and building forms.

Planning schemes could drive this now by giving priority to, and providing incentives for, sustainable and accessible housing close to transport and other services.

We worked with more than 42 seniors in south-east Queensland to design a series of housing types. These were based on what they told us were important to them in a home and a neighbourhood.

The table below summarises the key features that they told us make a neighbourhood and a home a good place to live as they age.

The resulting principles and housing types paint a vivid picture of what older people in a subtropical environment find appealing and supportive as they age.

Many participants preferred an accessible home on one level. Ideally, it should have two bedrooms and a study. This means it can easily be adapted to changing needs.

An essential component for our participants was to take advantage of the mild climate by having both private and shared outdoor spaces. Here they could socialise, relax and enjoy pleasant outlooks from the home. Cutting planning requirements for car parks by 50 per cent could add more shared outdoor space and cut housing and living costs for residents.

Homes should be sustainably designed. This means they capture natural light and prevailing breezes for through ventilation, take into account privacy and noise considerations in higher-density areas, and have solar and rainwater harvesting systems to save resources and money.

Also important was a neighbourhood with a variety of green, clean and safe public open spaces. This includes flat, well-maintained and shaded walkways for exercise and easy access to shops, facilities and public transport.

We then showed how all these housing types could be incorporated into one Brisbane suburb. This would mean seniors could remain in their neighbourhood in more suitable housing, reducing the stress of moving to unfamiliar surroundings.

How to make it happen
As with all complex challenges, everyone has a role to play in achieving these goals. However, local government planning reforms can act as a catalyst for the market to change and innovate.

Planning schemes could, for example, reduce application fees for developments that include accessible or universal design within 400–800 metres of key services, facilities and transport.

Carpark allocation could also be uncoupled from housing in locations close to transport and services. This would reduce the cost of housing and encourage greater used of active (cycling, walking, etc) and public transport.

This research clearly signals to local and state government, developers and small-scale property investors how houses, duplexes and mid-rise apartments could be put together in an age-friendly suburb. This transition to mixed-density infill development would support what we call ‘ageing in neighbourhood’.

Further, this research suggests planning ‘priority zones’ could give the market the incentive to invest in the future-focused neighbourhood development it should be providing to keep people connected to their community.

This article was co-authored by Phil Smith, Associate Director of Deicke Richards at the time of publication of the research report. Phil Smith is Director of Gomango Architects.The Conversation

Caroline Osborne, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Office of Community Engagement, University of the Sunshine Coast and Claudia Baldwin, Professor, Urban Design and Town Planning, Co-director, Sustainability Research Centre, University of the Sunshine Coast

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

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Written by The Conversation


Total Comments: 16
  1. 0

    What this retired person wants is to access to help with the garden. I have spoken to many agencies and have been told this is not available. Ruddles

    • 0

      Yes, good luck with that. I have been referred to many agencies, but every time I call them I get told they don’t work in my area or they are at capacity. In the end I gave up. I had to pay a team of people to clear my garden after a prolonged spell in hospital and inability to do the garden myself. If money was no object that would not be an issue. My Aged Care seem not to know what goes on in their own area, nor to care very much.

  2. 0

    What about seniors in Sydney I don’t really care what seniors in Brisbane want, what about us in Sydney? Have you ask any senior in Sydney?

  3. 0

    Quite a few years ago now the local Council convinced some of us in our suburb that we should allow the development of a variety of housing as it had previously been all single dwelling housing. They convinced us that this would allow people to stay in the suburb as they aged. Don’t be fooled by this as we were. All the developers have built since is large ugly townhouse complexes with block after block of joined, close together two-storey 3 and 4 bedroom townhouses, obviously for families. There are NO single storey townhouses with lovely landscaping areas inbetween being built. So you can suggest all you like but obviously what older people need in order to age in place does not make money for the developers.

  4. 0

    All good in theory. However I feel finding a property like you describe would be like winning a lottery

  5. 0

    All I want is stop developers shunting 50’s plus into these dog box overpriced huge retirement villages.

    It’s crazy

    A lot of people it seems like living on top of each other

  6. 0

    Many retirement village residents are fooled by the marketing hype of the developers. When the promised lifestyle fails to meet expectations, the management adopts a “divide and conquer” strategy in which residents who ask legitimate questions are vilified by management and a vocal minority of residents who unconditionally support management. Very few residents can afford to leave retirement villages due to the massive departure fees taken by the management. Thus residents remain trapped in a toxic environment. Apartments are worse than villas in creating this toxicity.

  7. 0

    I have been talking to agents now for over 8 years about this, The product is not what people want. There are a lot of couples in my street alone who want to downsize but stay in the area. They are building the wrong properties. The lifestyle properties on the market at the moment are all over priced, only paying for the home not the land,and then they hit you with the maintenance costs after 10 years, all over $100,000
    What we want is small single story homes with 2 bedrooms and a study with double garage, no one above us , no body corp, no stairs etc. But no one is building these types of properties because there is more money in townhouses.

  8. 0

    Well it seems to me you can get what you want if you have got the money A developer is there for one reason only to make money need I say anymore

  9. 0

    What I want is a new, or recently renovated, two bedroom bungalow with a sewing/craft room, nice kitchen and bathroom/en-suite and a living room with heating and air-conditioning. A small garden, a carport/garage with a shed where I could potter would be the icing on the cake. Ha, I already have that, I need look no farther.

  10. 0

    Our area is going through a battle with the local Council, they have rezoned our area to high density from R20 to R40 which the whole area is now battling with the Council; the Council are blaming the WA State Government Minister for development, it has been going around in circles for nearly four years. The State Government do not want to have the cost of more infrastructure. So the issues is these blocks of around 750sqm to 1200sqm are now ripe for the picking of the Developers. Developers want to make handsome profits. Yes we are close to the parks, the shops, the doctors, the transport and the ocean. So now as most of us in these surrounding streets are over 70 they want to get rid of us out of our homes and push us elsewhere further away from the ocean. Quite frankly I don’t think any state government gives a tosh what we seniors feel or want to spend our final years, they want to bundle us up into these villages knitted tightly together and be done with us. I don’t think we shall ever see the days where we are respected as seniors like the days of long gone. Our wishes are ignored by the local Government and the State Governments. Oh yes there are schemes to keep us in our homes by the Federal Government. What we would like would be turn our community into duplex that sit on 500sqm of land with a little garden, not 75sqm of land and housing.

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