AHURI report on retirement villages

When older people feel they cannot live safely and comfortably in their current home, and the family is worried about them too, a retirement village seems like a good option. But all is not what it seems on the surface. A new AHURI report on retirement villages reviews the situation.

Retirement village advertising espouses “lifestyle living” and the perfect place to spend our later life. However, the disadvantages are often only discovered after entry to the village.

Image from the Aged Care Guide.

Two white couples in early retirement years are lunching outdoors and clinking their wine glasses. They look like they are having fun.

Retirement villages are home to approximately 5.7 percent of the population aged more than 65 years. This is projected to increase to 7.5 percent by 2025. This is largely a for-profit industry and it’s highly competitive. The costs involved mean that only wealthy older people have the opportunity to make this their housing choice.

One of the findings in the AHURI report is that prospective residents prefer to take advice from family instead of heeding legal advice about the risks.

Image from Choice.com.au

A row of villas in a retirement village.

The title of the report is, Business models, consumer experiences and regulation of retirement villages. It looks at the advantages and disadvantages for both consumers and government. The executive summary is a good place to start.

For consumers, the attraction of joining a community and forming friendships is offset by mis-selling and unfair buy-back arrangements. For government, the retirement village sector provides the health care budget with significant savings. This is because entry to residential aged care is delayed.

Entry to the aged care system can also be delayed by building our homes with universal design features. Fortunately Australia is taking steps in the right direction with the changes to the National Construction Code and the new Livable Housing Standard.

From the executive summary

The strongest attractor was belonging to a community based on informal friendships. Negative aspects included being subject to ageism through the perception of segregation from younger age groups.

Prospective retirement village consumers who take legal advice and are warned about the risks don’t always check out these risks. They prefer to take advice from family.

The business model is not well understood by policy makers as well as consumers. There is only one model – deferred management fees known as exit fees. Residents enter at a reduced price and pay on exit.

Governments are happy for the sector to grow without financial support and this is unlikely to change. Financial support should go to supporting lower income and vulnerable groups through home care packages rather than subsidising wealthier home owners to live in villages.

The report recommends building standards that ensure retirement village operators are responsible for providing accessible, universally designed residences and facilities. Many older villages have units that are inaccessible once the resident develops a mobility impairment.

Articles on home modifications

A man in a bright yellow T shirt is painting and archway in a wall inside a home. The wall is grey and there are tools on the floor. Articles on home modifications.From October 2022, a step free entry and other minor changes for accessibility will be mandated for all new homes. For many people it will minimise the need for home modifications. Where they are needed, it will make it easier and more cost effective. In the 20 years leading up to the code change, many research articles were written to put the case. These articles remain relevant for existing homes and in jurisdictions yet to mandate access features in new homes. They are a mix of magazine and research articles and are listed below.

Ageing in Place: Are we there yet? (2019) Mary Ann Jackson

Your Home: Adaptable Housing Guide (2022) published by the Australian Government

Overcoming inertia to jump start renovations for ageing in place (2020) Louis Tenenbaum 

The potential of a home modification strategy – a universal design approach to existing housing (2014) by Phillippa Carnemolla.

The role of home maintenance and modification services in achieving health, community care and housing outcomes in later life (2008) AHURI Report by Andrew Jones et al. 

Better supporting older Australians to age in place (2021) AHURI Brief. 

Accessible housing – what’s it worth? (2020) by Dušan Katunský.

Accessible housing: costs and gains (2017) 

Ageing better at home (2018) Centre for Ageing Better 

Housing and older people: four strategies (2018) Jon Pynoos

Home design and later life (2017)

Adaptable housing for people with disability in Australia: A scoping study (2021) Australian Human Rights Commission. It looks beyond the code change for new housing to the issues in existing housing.

Nordic housing and ageing in place

How long can older people stay put in their homes? The answer rests on two things: home design and easy access to support services. Retaining a sense of connection to community is another important element which is why the quest to stay put is so strong. And of course, staying put also reduces the stress on the welfare budget. But are there alternative models of housing that can support older people in their later years? Three Nordic housing researchers found some.

A town nestling on the edge of a fjord with houses reaching up the hill. Nordic housing.

Older people aren’t all the same. One thing they do share in common – they want to maintain their autonomy and preferences.

Nordic countries have a reputation for providing strong social and welfare supports for their citizens. But population ageing is stretching the limits of these policies. The researchers reviewed the current situation in Nordic countries to identify issues and potential solutions. Using case studies they show how older people can live independently and inter-dependently.

The application of universal design across Nordic housing is enabling people to stay home longer. However, the case studies showed that loneliness is a growing challenge. Consequently, defining an age-friendly environment is much more than a step-free entry.

The challenge is to find solutions that promote activity, participation and a feeling of safety. Consequently, we need a joined up approach to housing and neighbourhood design. That is, apply universal design to everything. Then it will be good for everyone.

The way housing and urban environments are designed influences opportunities for informal social contact. Good examples are usually in designated specific older age communities. So the knowledge is there, it’s just assumed it’s only needed for older people.

Older people aren’t all the same

Too often it’s assumed that older people all need the same things. They don’t – they are as diverse as the general population. They have different lifestyles and want different housing choices. The one thing they share in common is wanting to maintain autonomy and preferences, especially as they become more frail.

The title of the article is Nordic approaches to housing and ageing – Current concepts and future needs. The article is relatively easy to read with case studies that show a variety of solutions, some of which are communal. The solutions enable older people to continue being part of their neighbourhood in different ways.

From the abstract

The Nordic countries have a reputation for having both universal welfare systems and high housing standards. However, the demographic development and ageing in place policies bring challenges to the present housing and care services for the older population. During the last decades, there has been a significant decrease in the coverage of care for older people. This is related to the increase of older people as well as challenges related to the availability of the workforce and raising care costs.

The objective of the comparative descriptive analyses is to point out the challenges and future possibilities for housing. This is illustrated by some new cases all of them showing solutions that enable older people to continue being a part of city life in their own neighbourhoods. They also show a variety of solutions that at the same time gives possibilities to live independently and live interdependent in different kind of co-housing and neighbourhoods.

A liveability framework for housing

A group of researchers in Queensland have developed a liveability framework for social and affordable housing. They interviewed key stakeholders from industry and government who make decisions about housing and housing policy. But will it work? With significant industry resistance to regulation changes, it will take more than an academic exercise to improve matters.

Building scaffolding representing a framework for a building.

Researchers tested the elements of the draft framework by interviewing stakeholders. They claim the framework has the potential to drive the adoption of better outcomes for whole of life solutions.

The five elements of the draft framework are:

  • Liveability – place based and community focused
  • Accessibility – person centres and community focused
  • Social, environmental and economic value – building the value equation
  • Regulatory and policy environment
  • Improving adoption

The case study used for testing the framework was based on an existing medium density development with access to transport and services. Twelve representatives from community housing, state government, advocates and industry associations were participants in the study.

The title of the paper is, Creating Liveable and Accessible Social and Affordable Higher Density Housing: the case of Green Square, Brisbane.

The social and affordable housing sector is a very small percentage of housing in Australia. The key issue is to gain adoption in stand-alone homes in master-planned sites which is 70% of all housing.

Upcoming changes to the NCC

The accessibility aspect of housing should be solved with the 2022 edition of the National Construction Code. This edition includes the key elements of the Silver level of the Livable Housing Design Guidelines. The housing industry continues to resist the adoption of these changes.

Editor’s comment: The framework is specific to social and affordable higher density housing, but offers nothing new to the this field of work. Similar frameworks attempt the same thing – trying to find a way to encourage implementation. Frameworks are clearly not the answer. This is a policy issue and not a design issue. Good designers are able to design out the problems, including cost, or at least design around them.

From the abstract

Ensuring liveability and accessibility in medium to high density urban housing and precincts is critical to maximise investment and minimise future risks to our community. This research investigates and develops our understanding of liveable and accessible social and affordable housing, with a focus on medium- and high-density urban precincts. The paper presents the findings of a case study undertaken in the Green Square Close precinct in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane.

Findings are derived from a literature review and in-depth interviews with key stakeholders from the housing industry and government. The results inform a liveability framework for social and affordable medium to high density housing utilising five key elements.

These elements include; 1) Liveability – place-based and community focused, 2) Accessibility – person centred and community focused, 3) Value equation – cost benefit, 4) Regulatory and policy environment and 5) Adoption and overcoming barriers.

The liveability framework also establishes sub-elements across these five elements to improve understanding of whole of life needs. The development of a liveability framework for social and affordable medium and high-density housing presents opportunities for decision making in the co-creation of, and investment in this critically needed housing.

Livable Housing Design: a DCP approach

How many local governments in New South Wales have Livable Housing Design Guidelines in their Development Control Plans (DCP)? And what mechanisms do developers use to find this information? With different terms being used for the same thing, how do developers navigate this environment? This is what Masters student Matthew Gee Kwun Chan wanted to find out. 

aerial view of three people at a desk looking at a set of construction drawings

Banks, property developers, planners, building designers, engineers, certifiers, and consumers all have a vested interest in housing. But do they all want a simpler system?

Chan’s literature review is broad ranging covering the complexities of housing regulation both voluntary and mandated. That’s before acknowledging the many stakeholders in the housing supply system.

The recent change to the National Construction Code (NCC) to mandate LHDG “silver” level is discussed in the context of the refusal by New South Wales to adopt this change.

NSW Government claims increased cost as the reason for not adopting the changes. This claim is challenged by economists, activists and consumers. NSW Government responses indicate that they still view the LHDG as “disability housing” not a mainstream issue. Consequently they claim there are sufficient properties available in the market and in social housing to meet current and future demand.

Local government and DCPs

Councils create DCPs to provide detailed information for implementing Environmental Planning Instruments (EPI). Some councils can seek higher accessibility standards beyond the statutory minimum. However, Chan found that councils “fail to adopt LHDG in their DCPs despite making the argument for such in other council documents”. He provides an analysis of 24 selected councils to compare their development and planning documents.

Chan claims that conflicting terminology is not the issue here. Rather, it is the amount of information, or lack thereof, about LHDG in the DCPs and where to find out more. So, the barriers to implementation are not helped when professionals lack understanding of the requirements. This is exacerbated by minor conflicts between DCPs, LHDG and Australian Standards. The regular reference to the Adaptable Housing Standard of 1995 is also unhelpful.

Document analysis reveals that each Council has its own interpretation of the LHDG and how it relates to other instruments. In some cases the references are outdated. Reference to the public domain access standard (AS1428) further complicates matters.

Brightly coloured graphic of little houses clustered together

Out of the 24 LGAs with DCPs enacting LHDG, 2 present the silver level without the hobless shower, and 2 without a stairway handrail.

Chan found that on one hand councils wanted more accessible inclusive environments, including housing, but they also wanted group homes, seniors housing and boarding houses. Some councils only encourage dwellings to LHDG while others require additional features as in the Gold and Platinum levels.

Case study

Four Sydney suburban development sites were studied: Berowra Heights, Darlinghurst, Miranda and Roseville. The analysis is necessarily technical and detailed and shows how many regulatory instruments planners and designer need to heed. The need to have an accredited assessor for some dwellings adds another step in the approval process. There is an argument here for rationalising these instruments, particularly those relating to the design of dwellings.

In the final part of the thesis, Chan challenges the NSW Government’s refusal to adopt the design features in the 2022 NCC. His rationale is that individual councils are trying to solve the problems themselves and refusal to adopt the NCC changes works against them. This is what has brought about differing provisions using different instruments across the system. And it won’t get better without adopting the silver level in the NCC.

The complexity of applying LHDG in DCPs could be solved by adopting the changes to the NCC. This would clear up most of the complexities, create a level playing field and give certainty to developers. 

Conclusions and recommendations

The thesis concludes with many recommendations. Some are related to revision of standards and related instruments. One of the recommendations for councils is to include the LHDG in their DCPs for all housing. The recommendations for the NSW Government appear to be “workarounds” on the basis of not adopting the NCC changes.

The title of the thesis is, To promote or to limit Livable Housing Design Guidelines within Development Control Plans is the question for governments and built environmental professionals. It is available for download in Word, or download as a PDF.

There is also a spreadsheet of all the councils showing those with and without DCPs requiring dwellings to LHDG.

Editor’s comment: Note that the LHA website is administered by Master Builders Australia. Training for Livable Housing Assessors is provided by Access Institute Australia. The LHA board consists of housing industry representatives who are not made public on the LHA website, but are listed with ASIC.

Inclusive energy efficient home renovations

A case study from the Netherlands describes an inclusive process for designing energy-efficient home renovations. A neighbourhood of 280 apartments is the subject of the study. With a mix of homeowners, renters and social housing tenants, it was essential to involve residents in the renovation process.

Several tall apartment buildings situated next to a canal.  Energy efficient home renovations.

Involving residents in major renovations is essential for bringing together the technical and social aspects of design.

The principles of civic and energy justice underpinned the approach to the project. Given that the resulting designs will largely be the same for every home, they need to be inclusive and considerate of ongoing energy costs for everyone. That means an inclusive design process is required.

Participatory action research

Expert stakeholders and six residents were interviewed and 50 residents were observed and interviewed during a tour of the demonstration apartment. Mutual learning was a key part of the iterative process involving prototypes.

Attention was paid to diversity, accessibility of research materials and interview materials were both verbal and visual. Technical design features were part of the results, but values emerged from the process. These values were health, sustainability, property value, cost of living and comfort.

The paper goes into more detail on the findings and the process. As part of the process, researchers developed a renovation guide to help residents understand what the proposed changes mean for them. They acknowledged time constraints which meant residents did not have time to experience the apartment. Rather, they only had time to view it.


Recommendations for improving the process include:

  • Location. Any sessions should be in the neighbourhood and in an accessible venue.
  • Time. Different meeting and interview times will suit different people.
  • Invitations. The guide acts as an invitation but might not work for everyone.
  • Language. Dutch is a second language for some people so a session in English might be necessary.
  • Other options. Apart from meetings, phone and email should be available. Not everyone feels comfortable in a group.

The lessons from the paper could be applied in housing situations such as social housing and co-housing. It also adds to the literature on inclusive design and co-design, and participatory action research.

The title of the article is, Values arising from participatory inclusive design in a complex process. There are diagrams to illustrate the complexity of designing an entire home and it’s technical systems, indoor climate, the lives and values of residents, and connection to systems and services.

From the abstract

This paper addresses inclusive design in a situation of complexity and how to improve it. The focus is on the inclusive design of a complex process and its tools, which is increasingly an issue in systemic design challenges. The current situation of climate change means we need to work on sustainability and inclusion at the same time.

The paper presents a case study of an energetic renovation process and the stakeholders’ activities and views in it. In a research-through-design process, the paper traces the possibilities to intervene in the process with communication tools to increase inclusivity of both process and outcomes.

Energy efficiency and universal design

Are energy efficiency and universal design incompatible? Potentially. Energy efficiency has an engineering approach and universal design has a sociological approach. This is what makes them incompatible according to researchers in Belgium. Energy efficiency is a measurable product whereas universal design is a process. So how can they both be addressed in home renovations?  This was the topic of a conference paper in 2016.

Thinking has moved on and we now talk about sustainability from both perspectives and the importance of having both. However, this paper brings the concepts into the same conversation and highlights areas of potential conflict. The paper has some interesting and explanatory graphs and comparisons that are worth a look especially for academics and theorists. 

Roof of a house covered in solar panels

The title of the paper is, Energy Efficiency and Universal Design in Home Renovations – A Comparative Review

Housing options in later age

Front Cover of the report. Staying put in later age.

Residential aged care is not usually a choice but a last resort. We all need better housing options in later life.

Long term care, nursing homes, residential care are all names for care in a facility dedicated to supporting older adults. But how many people desire this option? Usually it is a place of last resort because staying put is no longer an option. But can we do better than this?

A report from Canada looks at the issues of long term care, ageing in place with a brief mention universal design. The 14 page document takes a Canadian perspective of international solutions and options which are all specialist solutions.

The first recommendation is to encourage alternatives to long term care. The alternative recommendation is to develop housing and care models that incorporate universal design features into new builds. The second recommendation focuses on support services.

The report discusses seven different types of housing, five of which are based on segregation by age. Here is a brief overview:

Current housing options

Independent Living /Active Lifestyle Accommodation is for adults requiring minimal assistance. They are either detached homes or suites within apartment buildings. These solutions are best when offered within the existing neighbourhood.

Assistive Living / Supportive Housing is designed to provide safe and accessible homes for people needing personal care and housekeeping services.

Retirement Living homes are usually privately owned and suit older adults in the higher income brackets. This option suits older adults with higher incomes.

Co-housing consists of private dwellings with kitchens, bathrooms, bedrooms and shared common areas such as gardens and walkways. This model is not exclusively for older adults and offers connectedness as well as privacy.

Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs) develop overtime due to older adults remaining in their own homes as they age. This model is aimed at helping older adults to live as independently as possible. The concept of NORCs originated in the US.

Villages are member-based, grassroots organizations developed and governed by older adults in the US. Villages provide free and discounted services and staff and volunteers coordinate activities. This model helps reduce the risk of social isolation.

Intergenerational housing is the fastest growing housing arrangement in Canada. A diverse range of individuals of different ages live together and share life experiences and skills. Multigenerational housing encourages older adults to remain engaged in the community.

The report concludes with additional resources and references.

The title of the report is Housing & Care Models to Support Older Adults to Remain in Their Communities.  

Editor’s note: Universal design features for housing will be in the new edition of the National Construction Code. The features are basic and we have yet to see when industry and state governments will implement them.

Including people with intellectual disability in co-design

Picture of a large family looking jubilant outside their housePeople with intellectual disability are rarely considered when it comes to design. Whether it’s built or digital environments, services or products, this group is often overlooked. However, with co-design methods, people with intellectual disability could and should be included. But, this is still a new idea and there is very little literature or case studies on working with this group. This is the finding from a recent literature review.

The literature review was carried out in the context of housing design. The review found the following gaps in knowledge:

    • General lack of literature on co-designing with people with an intellectual disability
    • No specific literature encapsulating the co-design process, in the context of intellectual disability, and housing
    • No frameworks or benchmarks on co-design with people with disability
    • Lack of evaluation of the design outcomes of co-design process
    • Lack of research that can assist parents plan for their ageing children. 

Housing design for people with physical disabilities has evolved over time and is not easily adapted to suit people with intellectual disability. There is also a need to consider people with both intellectual and physical disability. 

The title of the article is, Co-designing in Australia housing for people with intellectual disability: an integrative literature review“. You can download the web version or the PDF version

Related work: A research project undertaken by the University of Technology (UTS) recruited researchers with intellectual disability to participate in all aspects of designing and carrying out social inclusion research. This was a key step for informing the research process. 


Background: This paper provides an evidence base for practice in Australia from an integrative literature review of research on co-designing housing with people with an intellectual disability. The study asks: what methods and outcomes have been reported from including people with an intellectual disability in the co-design of their housing?

Method: The integrative review framework described by Whitemore and Knafl (2005) was used to analyse the literature.

Results: The literature searches yielded 16 articles after applying inclusion and exclusion criteria. Important gaps in the literature were found relating to: co-designing with people with an intellectual disability; the co-designing of housing with people with an intellectual disability; specific frameworks or benchmarks for co-designing with people with an intellectual disability; processes on use of proxies; and on design outcomes.

Conclusions: Considerable work is required to explore and evaluate co-design processes in the design of housing with adults with intellectual disabilities, as well as how the outcomes of these processes are evaluated.

Downsizing? But where to?

A row of flat front row homes in blue and white. Downsizing? But where to?The idea of downsizing is appealing to empty-nesters. But where can they go?  The biggest barrier to downsizing is finding a suitable home in the right location. Many empty nesters just want a smaller home and yard. Governments have a vested interest in older Australians having a home in which it is safe to grow old. It’s cost effective for everyone.

Sometimes it isn’t the home they want to downsize – it’s the garden maintenance. ‘Empty’ bedrooms do not necessarily mean that a home is under-utilised.  This is a crude measure because spare bedrooms are needed as guest and hobby rooms. Spending time at home means the home has to do more. A home too small limits options.

An expanse of green lawn in a suburban back yard.The Conversation discusses these issues and has links to well-researched reports. The title of the article is, Half of over-55s are open to downsizing – if only they find homes that suit them.

A similar article was published earlier in The Conversation titled, Lack of housing choice frustrates would-be downsizers.

When it comes to house size, Bruce Judd and colleagues from UNSW found that retirees generally want three bedrooms for flexibility of lifestyle. Some for visiting family and looking after grandchildren. Others need room for hobbies or a study. Some couples sleep separately for health reasons. Typically, retirees spend more time at home now that they are not working, so space becomes even more important.  

Baby Boomers defy predictions.

Facade of a large two storey home commonly called a McMansion Housing experts predicted “the great senior sell-off”. But baby boomers aren’t downsizing – they are staying put.

Mimi Kirk in a CityLab article looked at new research from Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies that discusses issues related to housing type, affordability and the different expectations of millennials and boomers. Millennials are generally uninterested in the style of their parents’ homes. So there goes the myth that boomers are (selfishly) holding onto homes that millennials could buy. 

Policy makers think that downsizing is largely about finances and homes being too large to suit ageing in place. But the evidence is something else. Research findings put to bed some of the myths younger policy makers have about older people and their ideas on housing.

“…high cost of new multi-storey apartments means that householders don’t necessarily have enough money from the sale of their larger family house to buy an apartment, particularly after stamp duty, bank and real estate agent fees, and moving costs are included.”  AHURI report, 2018.

Suitable housing in the future?

In the future, people living in Victoria, ACT, Queensland, NT and Tasmania will have the benefit of universal design features in new homes. However, the NSW, WA and SA governments have decided that this important change to the building code isn’t necessary. To keep up to date on the latest, follow the ANUHD website and join their network of supporters. The 2022 edition of the National Construction code will have the updated design features. 


Design with people with dementia

Front cover of the thesis. Design with people with dementia.It’s not often that people diagnosed with dementia get asked what works for them in terms of home design. People with dementia want to age in place in the same way as others. However, this requires integrated and diverse living solutions. The only way to do this is to design with people with dementia.

In a master’s thesis, Kembhavi explains the background to her research and the research objectives. Using a co-design process she was able to identify three key concepts important to people with dementia: choice, integration, and service support. The process was not linear – many modifications and iterations were required to arrive at the final result.

To begin, the idea of aging in place was investigated. This inquiry created the first design challenge. That is, factors that make aging in place difficult. This resulted in the adoption of a user-centered design philosophy.  User-centred design focuses on the requirements and desires of users throughout the concept development process.

This paved the path for the second research topic: ‘how can people with dementia be involved in developing living solutions for themselves?’ 

Title of the thesis is, Integrated living environment for people with memory decline. Author Shreya Kembhavi, Aalto University. Helsinki city housing company housing was the context for the research.

This masters thesis covers a literature review, design methods, and an implementation strategy.  As with many architectural theses and documents, this one is presented in landscape format. It includes case studies with images and explanatory graphics. If you want to get the short version of method, the conclusion explains the background to the research, and how the research was done.

From the abstract

Giving people the ability to choose their own way of life has the potential to be an effective way of developing living alternatives for people with dementia. Residential services and spaces, engagement services and spaces, and support services and spaces are three elements that must be addressed through service and space provision to enable aging in a place of choice. A strong network of these elements in the area could potentially allow a greater population to age in place.

By integrating the serviced housing with the housing for other user groups, the thesis proposes a strategy that incorporates serviced housing as a component of the standard housing stock. The serviced housing is built on the three principles of residency, engagement, and support. As part of this approach, new services such as drop-in consultations for persons seeking advice, social spaces such as a cafés, and residential services such as a dementia hotel are proposed.

A branding strategy is advised to de-stigmatize and incorporate people with memory decline, and supporting services and properties for them into the city’s portfolio. This is an attempt to change an image associated with such spaces, into one that is inclusive and open to the community. The thesis with demonstration of the concept’s scaling and its benefits in the realm of living solutions for people with dementia.

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