Housing my family!

Geraldine Kay, Chief Executive of Derwentside Homes, considers the impact of the housing crisis and how it can touch everybody. 

There can’t be a household across the land that’s not been directly or indirectly through friends and relations affected by the current Housing Crisis. In the day job, I’m focussed on finding housing solutions for local people, be it desirable housing for an ageing population or a quality affordable offer for the younger generation squeezed out of home ownership. I hadn’t realised how much these two key housing concerns are pertinent to my own personal experience too. I worry about where my kids in their early twenties are going to live and pray it’s not with me forever!  Both work but neither earn enough currently to cover a basic rent let alone a mortgage. But it’s my parents’ housing predicament I want to talk about in this blog.

The Housing Crisis isn’t just confined to young people and families who can’t access affordable homes to rent or buy. It impacts on older people too, like my parents living in their much loved own home but which is increasingly unmanageable and unsuitable for their physical needs.  They know this and are anxious about their future welfare but there just isn’t the choice or range of appropriate accommodation available for them to downsize to. They are not alone.

There will be a 43% increase in over 65s in County Durham by 2030 and  – that’s a staggering 1 in 4 of the population  over 65 within 15 years and the number of over 85s will double to 22,000. If this older generation remain trapped in unsuitable accommodation the cost to the NHS could be significant.  Those living in inappropriate accommodation are more likely to have accidents through trips and falls and to bed block once admitted to hospital.  Age UK have calculated that bed blocking has cost the NHS £640 million over the last 4 years and state the most common reasons for this is not  having a care package in place or not having suitable accommodation to be discharged to.

I can’t help but think that we could ease this country’s housing crisis and mounting health and social care bill if we built more suitable homes for older people to move into, freeing their homes for families to buy or rent. And I mean “suitable”! We seem to think as we grow older we abandon our aspirations for well designed top quality accommodation and will settle for a second rate institutional style matchbox. We don’t!

Joseph Rowntree’s market assessment of housing options for older people in 2012 found that most want as a minimum a property that is not too small, at least two bedrooms with enough living space to sit, eat, for hobbies, and to have friends and family to visit or stay.  Their report shows that the traditional perception of housing for older people of small flats and bungalows or institutional residential care homes and sheltered housing full of high back chairs and dressing gown clad shufflers is completely at odds with how older people actually live today.  To meet the demands of the growing older population developers and policy makers need to broaden their ideas of what people are actually looking for.

I have firsthand experience of this having taken the parents to show them round a brand new sheltered housing scheme, Derwentside Homes is extremely proud of for its design, quality and exceptionally modern communal areas. This is 5 star hotel quality. I wanted to change their perception of supported housing for older people.  They were blown away by the design and concept and feel of the building, but it all went downhill when we entered the two bedroom en-suite show apartment for sale.  It was just far too small even if built to HCA standards. Where would Dad put his guitars and amplifiers? Where would Mam put her knitting machine and arts and craft materials and where on earth were the family going to sit when they come round for Sunday dinner, as there certainly wasn’t room for a formal table in the open plan kitchen / lounge?

Their conclusion, -they actually liked the modern feel of the building and the idea of supported housing; having your own place but being able to socialise with others in the lounges,  but only if they were on their own. The apartments were simply not large enough to accommodate them both, their hobbies and paraphernalia.

It can’t be beyond the wit of developers and housing associations to offer a wider range of mainstream and supported housing that incorporates better space and storage standards and that small manageable garden or patio space.  Roomy apartments in the sky with larger balconies or even private roof gardens and high quality communal ground floor space might be a start. There’s certainly unmet demand.