Ageing Society and Housing Futures


By URBACT, on June 7th, 2010

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The fact that many countries are experiencing a structural shift in demographic composition provoked by ageing populations has take some time to gain universal awareness. It seems only some years ago that early retirement or shorter working weeks were being promoted to create space in the labour market for a younger work force (60 year pension age in France, bridging pension schemes in certain employment sectors in Belgium, early retirement in the UK). Faced with a population that is not only living longer but is more active in later years, policy makers today are promoting extension of pension age and continued working in an attempt to counter the effect of the “baby boomers” and reduce pressure/dependence on the state – while simultaneously the supporting younger age groups diminish in statistical terms. This is not only a European phenomenon, but is also prevalent in countries around the world though driven by slightly different contexts, Brazil, Japan, and perhaps most worryingly China, to give only some examples.

Actors working in the sector suggest that the demographic change is as important a challenge as climate change for policy makers and for cities. This situation obviously raises concerns for the ageing individuals/households themselves, for families but also for public and private care and support services and institutions. The positive impact of more active senior citizens is not true for everyone, and at best represents a postponement of the need for care structures, where an increased scale of demand is confronted (particularly in this period of crisis) with seriously stretched capacities.  In Germany 16 million people are already older than 65 with a forecast that this will grow to 20 million in 2020 (4 million over 80 years of age, predicted 6 million in 2020) Other EU countries could present similar conditions and expectations.

So intuitively moves are being made to encourage this older generation to be self-supporting for as long as possible, particularly in terms of continuing to occupy their own dwelling. While the cost/ benefits of this solution may not be scientifically quantified in comparison with other systems, the position seems to be logical. And if this is the case, the link between senior citizens and housing would appear to be an impending priority issue which also has serious consequences in economic terms. Quite apart from questions of availability, affordability and flexibility – age appropriate rehabilitation, adapted standards for new construction, “inclusive design” and lifetime homes are serious options for consideration. As with environmental measures it is the existing housing stock which will always be the core concern.  Achieving senior friendly housing implies: adaptation, transfer and downsizing; imaging alternative regulations and standards, legal protections and financial mechanisms; ensuring availability, mobility of services; and stimulating inter-generational solidarity.
National and local governments are actively beginning to address this question but it is clear that there is not a great depth of knowledge on what is happening in other, even sometimes in neighbouring, member states. Would URBACT not be an ideal vehicle to achieve some form of benchmarking on the relationship between Ageing Generations and the Concept of Inclusive Housing Design as part of the long game?

See also:

  • Active A.G.E – URBACT website
  • European Housing Forum Lecture Series “Changing Lifestyles, Changing Climate – The Role of Housing in the EU”
    Lecture 3, Wednesday 26th May 2010 “I don’t want to leave my house!” – Housing Requirements for an Ageing Generation: Mrs. Ingrid Matthäus-Maier 
Philip Stein
URBACT Pole Manager

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