The UK has an acknowledged housing problem for older people today. According to the Local Government Association, we need to increase the number of age-friendly homes by 400,000 in less than 20 years to cope with our ageing population.
This will only be exacerbated when the 60+ population is projected to double by 2050 and treble by 2100.
Solutions to this issue must begin now to meet this challenge, which will impact society, the economy and the wider housing market and, therefore, requires a holistic approach. This will require new approaches to housing, but also to urban environments and related infrastructure more broadly, and greater integration of older people into the wider economy.
For example, the recent report from the Centre for Cities calls for a diversification of town centres and traditional retail locations – and the so-called “silver economy” can play a key role here. Residential, health and community facilities on high streets could both boost intergenerational cohesion, and be a significant footfall boost to traditional retail and leisure operators.
At the same time, technological advancements and smart buildings can play a key part in keeping the elderly and vulnerable safe and healthy at home for longer.
Part of the solution may be found in the tried and trusted products of today – such as lifetime homes and retirement villages. Another option, though, may be in recalibrating how alternative asset classes are marketed to tomorrow’s elderly population.
We need to be thinking about what today’s Gen X, millennials, and indeed Gen Z, will require when they approach retirement age. These generations will have matured in the age of co-working, co-living, and the growing private rental sector, and will have connectivity expectations that mean simply “more of the same”, just won’t cut it.
Flexibility is key, with real estate needing to evolve and adapt to suit different purposes over time and for multiple age groups.
Our models of funding, along with legal and regulatory frameworks, have some catching up to do in order to facilitate these advancements.
The idea of an additional rate of tax on older generations to fund social care has international precedents, while there have been calls for stamp duty relief for “last-time buyers” to encourage downsizing and to free up the market.
At the same time, regulation and developer incentives can play a role in ensuring that new builds – which are very often focused on first-time buyers – are attractive for these last-time buyers too.
We cannot ignore the tide of demographic change. Our evolving housing policy will be central to ensuring the wellbeing of older people in tomorrow’s city, and the health of the wider economy.