A Wider Range of Housing Choices needed for Older People- Examples from overseas

Judith Davey


Housing plays a variety of roles in the lives and wellbeing of older people. Inadequate living conditions lead to increased stress levels, social isolation, poor health and a higher risk of illness and injury.  Older people need to be able to exercise choices over their housing options and to seek out the types of housing which best suit their circumstances. But the range of choices in New Zealand is not very extensive.

Perhaps we need to consider new approaches. What about co-operative housing, shared housing, accessory units (“granny-flats”), co-housing and intergenerational housing?  Here are a few examples of innovative housing options, mostly from the USA, which I have recently come across in the literature.

Senior “co-housing” is a way for a group of people to get together and create a custom-designed neighbourhood and types of housing directly tailored to their needs and aspirations. Such developments typically have shared amenities such as a library, guest rooms, community gardens and recreational facilities, as well as individual living units. The model originated in Denmark and now co-housing for older people, or with a multi-generational focus, is found throughout Europe.

The first three senior co-housing communities in the USA opened in 2006[1]. In Glacier Circle, California, twelve friends who had known one another for thirty years built a townhouse-style community. Elderspirit, in Virginia, is a residential community formed around later-life spirituality. It has fourteen owner-occupied cottages, and fifteen rental apartments. Silver Sage is an upscale community of sixteen duplexes and attached homes in Colorado.

The Burbank Senior Artists’ Colony arose out of the collaborative efforts of a private developer, a non-profit arts programme and an affordable housing provider. It includes 147 rental apartments offering independent living (70% at market rate; 30% “affordable” rentals) in a creative, art-inspired environment. It has a theatre and art studios. Residents host arts events for their neighbourhood, present live entertainment and opportunities to work in the studios.

These examples fit the “village” model, where older people develop membership associations, often within an existing residential area, that provide supportive services and social activities.[2] Village members pay annual dues and receive access to services, such as weekly grocery shopping trips; referrals and discounts for outside services (e.g. home repairs); social and educational activities, and opportunities to participate in governance and peer support. It is a kind of “do-it-yourself” retirement village. Most of the New Zealand equivalents – retirement villages – are commercial enterprises with varying degrees of consumer input. Many are part of “chains”; others include individual private sector developments and villages in the charitable and religious sector, but the same comment will apply.

Providing affordable housing for low-income older renters in high-cost areas is the aim of Senior Housing Solutions (SHS), a non-profit group in California. The group purchases and remodels single family homes to provide affordable group rental housing. The design template for each house includes five private bedrooms, a shared kitchen and living space and landscaped front and back areas. By blending multiple funding programmes and rental income, SHS meets capital and operating expenses, and provides caseworker support.[3]

The Human Investment Project (HIP) Housing in California, is one of more than 100 home-share programmes in the United States that bring together home providers and home seekers through a “match-up” service. It can match homeowners – mostly older people – with home seekers who pay rent. It can also set up service exchanges that give home seekers a place to live for free in return for providing services to the homeowner.

The Homeshare Australia and New Zealand Alliance Inc. (HANZA) was established in 2006. Its web-site says that currently there are no active programmes in New Zealand but expressions of interest would be welcomed.[4] Presbyterian Support (Enliven) East Coast apparently has a scheme in Hawke’s Bay which is apparently proving a success with older home owners and younger homesharers.[5]

How could these models be used to expand housing choices for older people in New Zealand? Who could take the initiative? What are the prospects for partnership between public, private and voluntary sector organisations? Changes in the housing environment suggest that there is some urgency to address these questions. Will housing affordability become an increasing barrier to choice? The fall in home ownership will soon work through to affect the older age groups. Will current rental stock meet future requirements?


[1] From Kennedy, C. (2010) The City of 2050-An Age-Friendly, Vibrant, Intergenerational Community. Generations, 34,4, p.70-75.

[2] I will say more about such “NORCs” – Naturally Occuring Retirement Communities – in another blog.

[3] Abbeyfield is a New Zealand example of this type of housing.

[4] homeshare.org.au

[5] presbyterian.org.nz/node/3204/view

About Age Concern New Zealand 'on research'

At the heart of everything Age Concern does is a passion to see older people experience well-being, respect, dignity, and to be included and valued. We support, inform and advise older people on issues such as access to health care, transport, housing, financial entitlements, and social opportunities. We also work to combat real problems in our society, like elder abuse and neglect, chronic loneliness and social isolation. We provide specialist services with trained and qualified professionals able to give expert advice and assistance. Age Concern is a charity and relies on the support of volunteers and public donations to do much of the work we do. To help us help older people, please consider making a donation of your time or money. To see how, visit www.ageconcern.org.nz
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2 Responses to A Wider Range of Housing Choices needed for Older People- Examples from overseas

  1. Robyn Barry says:

    Great article. We do certainly need more options, and I am getting increasingly concerned about the future housing options for older people, especially as the current and future need has been signposted years ago and very little has been done. In regards to the senior housing solutions model. This is exactly what Bays Community Housing Trust has done on the North Shore in Auckland. 5 bedrooms with a shared living space. Slightly different model than Abbeyfield’s boarding house concept that has a live in manager and 10 – 11 bedrooms.


    • Thomas Taylor says:

      It is a great article and I share both Judith’s and Robyn’s concerns. Grey Power’s Housing Policy recognises this problem and that, for instance, Local Authorities such as the Nelson City Council should do more. I’m on an informal housing group which is part of Voice Nelson and I’m looking into the scale of housing problems for elderly people in Nelson who are not well off.


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