Making better use of existing housing could be another way to the solution of our “housing crisis”. For a long time there have been suggestions, especially by public sector landlords, that older people should move out of ”family” accommodation to smaller units more suitable to their needs, thereby freeing up larger units. At the moment, four out of every five people aged 65 plus live in small households, either alone or with a spouse/partner only.
Interest in communal dwellings seems to be growing and could be appropriate for older people as they can provide assistance and companionship. In Europe “co-housing” often serves multi-generational communities, but Abbeyfield houses are a New Zealand example of senior co-housing.
But what if larger houses were subdivided into smaller units? This is the question posed by another PhD student in the School of Architecture at Victoria University of Wellington, who I am pleased to advise and assist as I can. The research goes beyond design into the implications for energy and resource use . But here I am looking at just some of the options for subdivision and how “sharing” is viewed by older people.
Examples of division and sharing
Typical New Zealand housing types were redesigned to Lifemark standards and proposals developed for each type with various degrees of sharing. These were presented to people aged 55‐85 using an online questionnaire. Respondents were asked how much they liked the design options; whether they met their housing requirements; and what they thought about sharing space.
I am looking at just two examples here (using the scheme names from the questionnaire for convenience):
1. An early 20th century villa with a central corridor. This could be divided into two separate units with a shared entrance (Scheme B) or into two “bed-sitters” with shared living areas (Scheme E).
2. A 1940-60s single storey State House. This also could be divided into two separate units with a shared entrance (Scheme C) or into two “bed-sitters” with shared living areas (Scheme F).
The survey found that while almost 80% of the respondents were interested in either of the Scheme B units in the Villa example, only 52% found either of units in the State House example (Scheme C) acceptable. People preferred the larger units and more private space. Around 75% of respondents singled out private decks as important features. The original house did not have a deck; this was the only addition in the division. Two-thirds of respondents liked an open-plan kitchen and dining area, suggesting that this arrangement might suit smaller domestic environments.
A considerable number of respondents did not favour one-bedroom units, considering the need for an extra room for visiting guests, family members and live-in carers. In some plans for subdivision extra bedrooms could be shared. Schemes E and F could accommodate two older people, one person and a long-term live-in carer, or one older person and a lodger, which could be a way of giving additional income for the house owner.
The survey showed that there was not much enthusiasm for sharing spaces and features inside the dwellings, especially living/dining rooms and kitchens. But almost 60% of the respondents were interested in sharing a laundry, perhaps because such facilities are often shared in multi-unit housing and because self-service laundromats can be an option.
In terms of the age groups which the respondents might be willing to share with, the 41-64 group received the highest votes, and the next choice was 21‐40.
The research carried out to date shows that it is possible to convert typical New Zealand houses to allow ageing in place in smaller units that are easier to heat and meet Lifemark Home standards. But this might not satisfy the target client group. There was little enthusiasm for very small living units and sharing space (apart from outside space). This suggests that engaging potential users in the design process at an early stage would be a good idea.
“Converting houses into smaller units …… seems like a good idea but is not worth doing unless people want to live in them.“
- Fatemeh Yavari and Brenda Vale (2017) Sharing Space and Older New Zealanders: Preferences for the Conversion of Existing Houses. In M. A. Schnabel (ed.) Back to the Future: The Next 50 Years, (51st International Conference of the Architectural Science Architectural Science Association (ANZAScA), pp. 305–314.Yavari, F., & Vale, B. (2017). User and expert perspectives on designs for converting existing New Zealand houses to make them suitable for ageing in place, in The International Academic Forum (eds.), East Meets West: Innovation and Discovery: Proceedings of The Asian Conference on Aging & Gerontology 2017, The International Academic Forum (IAFOR), pp.1-15.
2. These diagrams are included here with the permission of the authors, but are subject to copyright.