London needs a concerted campaign ‘on a grand scale’ and a widespread change of mindset if it is to avoid a ‘tidal wave’ of housing need from older people. The profession has failed to provide enough high quality, affordable, and flexible accommodation for its older citizens, must learn from countries like Denmark, Holland and Germany, and the city must better appreciate the widespread benefits and more balanced communities that intergenerational housing can bring.
Those were some of the main views to emerge from a breakfast talk on third age housing last week, at which former RIBA president Angela Brady, director at Brady Mallalieu called for more sites to be made available. Perhaps this could be through mayor Sadiq Khan stipulating that, say, 10% of public land could be made available for the sector. ‘There’s definitely a need there’, she said. ‘We shoudn’t be looking at this as a housing thing. It’s actually a lifestyle that we need because we’re still not building the types of houses that we need. It’s still the 1950s model of the nuclear family, and then people get stuck.’
Brady was speaking as part of a panel discussing the issues surrounding third age housing, and specifically following presentations by, first, PRP partner Jenny Buterchi. Key to providing good quality housing for older people across a range of tenures was to create a product older people choose to move to and which they can afford, said Buterchi. Spacious, well-designed apartments are what people are after, not just to downsizers or – as they are now known – rightsizers – and they should aim to have good access to natural light, outdoor space, and places to socialise. That last element is an important factor given that social isolation is quite often why people make the move, while other elements such as security are important, all of which is helped by creating efficient, rational designs, with stacked features, scale, and communal facilities. Much of which is encapsulated at PRP’s newly opened Windmill Court scheme in Chingford, a new project of 44 apartments with balconies, winter gardens and lot of storage. ‘But most of all it’s about balanced communities’, said Buterchi. ‘We want vibrant communities and keeping older people near their family and friends where they’ve perhaps lived all their life – that is what we would all want to see’.
Ryder’s David McMahon said that with almost 20 million households in the over 55s bracket and the number of people aged over 85 set to double in the next 20 years, this area of housing provision is a key concern. Especially with a government more focused on Right to Buy, a chronic housing undersupply and a lack of suitable homes to downsize to. ‘The government has failed to address the need to provide appropriate housing for the older generation’, he said. So the practice has been looking at new solutions to encourage downsizing, including its ‘Redefined Living’ concept, allowing residents to move into apartments whilst freeing up larger family homes at the same time. McMahon said that 2.25 million bed spaces could be released or created for Londoners using this method.
The HAPPI report was a really important moment in the late 1990s, said PegasusLife design director John Nordon. ‘But one of the most salient points it made was that if we designed housing properly in the first place we wouldn’t need to design specialist housing for older people’, he said. ‘I just think people need to remember that. We’re here because, as a profession, we’ve failed to build the housing I think we should all be living in.’
Nick Taylor, head of north west London – housing and land at the GLA said he didn’t believe that either the GLA, housing associations or local authorities had done enough to try and unlock shared ownership for the elderly market, and the private rented sector should be another key player.
But there is a lack of understanding at policy level about what the benefits of good quality housing are, said Nordon, and that the ‘drop in the ocean’ that PegasusLife is contributing in numbers – 1500 homes a year – needs bolstering by others. ‘Berkeley Homes, Crest Nicholson, bring it on’, he said. ‘We need more people building it, not shying away from it or using it as a pseudo-affordable housing play. We need more housing; good housing.’
David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly