What about a post-pandemic social housing stimulus project? Not a new idea, but such ideas usually relate to new housing. So what about modifying existing social housing? This is so that people can stay in their community for longer as they age. Lisa King argues the case in a research paper with a focus on older women.
King’s paper begins with a literature review of the issues related to older women and housing. The case study takes the floor plans of existing dwellings and makes changes to show how to make them more accessible. The case study includes studio units and two bedroom units. There is also a site plan, a demolition plan and costings too.
King summarises the research by giving a rationale for choosing 1960s dwellings, and says the project is scaleable, modular and cost effective. In addition, this type of work provides employment for small and medium businesses. And of course, it optimises existing stock while improving the lives of residents. King sums up with, “The result would be universally accessible housing and an asset which would assist meet the growing demand for residents to age-in-place with dignity.”
What home modifications are needed most and how much are they needed? Mary Ann Jackson analysed 50 home modification reports in Victoria to get an answer. The homes visited were built before any advocacy for accessible housing began. Consequently they all had a doorsill or step at the front door and tight spaces. This was further complicated with a screen door. Meter boxes also intruded on entry space. Many of the fittings, such as taps and handles were poorly designed to suit ageing in place. Jackson advises that accessibility issues are endemic to Australia’s existing housing stock. This is a big problem when 39.5% of households include a person with disability. If it is too expensive for governments or individuals to finance the required renovations, we will need another approach. Let’s hope the Regulatory Impact Statement due next year supports accessible design in all new homes.
Architect and Planner Jackson says, “Cooperation, collaboration, and a clear recognition of the emotional, physical, and economic cost-benefit of ageing in place will be needed to rebuild Australia’s housing stock to better accommodate all inhabitants throughout life.” The title of the newsletter article is Ageing in place – are we there yet?
The picture above is famous for its technical compliance, but not usability, and definitely not aesthetics.
Scope Home Access has developed a Home Modification Assessment Tool, which is mainly for specialised home adaptations, but there are some useful mainstream ideas, particularly for ageing in place. For older people who are thinking ahead about how to stay put as they age, the checklist, although long, does give some good things to think about. However, not everyone wants to think ahead to a time when they might need these designs. That’s the problem. The tool is good for builders who want to know what to think about in their designs and client renovations. There is also a health and ability checklist at the end. It is the kind of tool best used in conjunction with an occupational therapist.
Because the majority of our homes are designed as if we are never going to grow old, most of us will need to modify our home as we age. That’s if you want to stay put, which is what most older people say is their preference. An easy to read and nicely presented report from Centre for Ageing Better in the UK gives an excellent overview of how home modification improves quality of life, mental health and overall independence. All good reasons for universally designing our homes from the start for the whole of our lives so modifications aren’t needed or are at least easier to do. Dwellings might be a “product” to property developers but for the rest of us a “home” is the pivot point for living our lives.
A great quote from a study participant to reflect upon, “You don’t get taught, at any point in your life, how to become an older person. It just sort of happens, you know…”. So waiting for consumers to ask for universal design isn’t going to work.