Housing for elderly a growing concern

More confirmation - not that it's needed - of the challenges faced in meeting the needs of an ageing population has come at a national conference in Nelson.

Baby boomers - those born in the nearly two decades following World War II till 1964 - are already contributing to a significant trend in housing: downsizing.

For those who have had the means, will or luck to make wise choices, this might involve moving from a million dollar-plus, upmarket property on the Port Hills or valuable rural spread to a smaller but still expensive apartment or modern low-maintenance dwelling on an easy-care section on the flat.

For everyone lucky enough to be in that position, however, there will be any number of people facing retirement with trepidation.

Some will have been stuck in a rent-trap for most of their lives, unable to break free. Others might have been caught out by a mid-life crisis: redundancy, health issue, relationship breakup or other significant life-changing challenge.

In Nelson, a comparatively low-wage, high-housing-cost region, which is also a retirement mecca, the challenges in providing suitable housing options for an ageing society can only be heightened.

The earlier the community and individuals start seeking solutions, the easier they will be to find.

Easily developed sections close to the city are already at a premium, and this side of the housing equation can only tighten.

Nelson already has a range of council, government, community and private solutions to housing for the elderly issues, but it is clear there will have to be some innovative and flexible thinking as the so-called "grey tsunami" sweeps in.

Multiple ownership of larger homes is one potential solution. Rather than selling the large family home, some homeowners might consider freeing some equity and selling a share of the property to others who would live there as part-owners.

Those with larger sections might decide subdividing would release some equity. Infill housing is an increasingly viable urban planning mechanism, but ought to be more easily accomplished than is the case.

Other people might consider joint ownership of a listed property for sale, or opt to take in tenants rather than downsizing. We might also expect greater flexibility and creativity in housing solutions from council and government agencies in future when they finally begin taking the challenges of an ageing society more seriously.

Whatever happens it is clear that most retirees are far from wealthy - the Nelson conference was told that more than half the residents of retirement villages in New Zealand have an annual income of less than $25,000 a year.

It's often said that the measure of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable. To live out one's days in comparative comfort is not a privilege but a basic right. As the elderly population grows, so too will the difficulties in meeting its needs.

The Nelson Mail