Auckland's Unitary Plan may offer solution to shortage of age friendly housing

Auckland’s proposed unitary plan may offer a solution to a chronic shortage of homes suitable for the region’s ageing population - according to a local expert.

Currently just 2 per cent of the city’s new housing stock is likely to be designed to cater for people with mobility or disability issues, says Geoff Penrose, the general manager of Lifemark - a charity that operates a certification scheme for the design of new homes.

Penrose says that without considering the needs of the elderly, there are concerns that intensification and increasing the average height of dwellings may exacerbate the current shortage of suitable housing.

“By the time the current unitary plan is completed, the proportion of Auckland’s population age over 65 will have increased by 150% to more than 425,000 by 2046, with over 50% having some form of disability,” says Penrose.

Those in this age bracket often struggle with simple tasks such as climbing stairs and navigating narrow hallways in wheelchairs or walking frames.

“If we give due consideration to this demographic now we can ensure that sufficient future housing stock is age-friendly in design.

“We need about 30 per cent of new homes built under the unitary plan to be age-friendly to meet the market demand. The number of builders and developers creating homes that better serve our population is increasing, but it is still far too small,” says Penrose.

Penrose says at the same time increasing intensification around public transport hubs is expected to help those with mobility restrictions remain more independent.

“In Auckland, Lifemark certified 134 homes in the last year out of a total of 9251 that were consented. That’s around 2 per cent.

“Only homes that have safe, level access and incorporate features such as wider doorways, increased spaces, reachable power points and easy to use taps, window latches and light switches can be certified. That makes them safer and more liveable, which is great for all of us but particularly important as we age.”

Penrose says sadly, many will find themselves in a living environment not designed to cater for them, resulting in a lower quality of living and, in some cases, household injuries.

In 2016, there were 360,000 ACC claims worth $435 million, due to falls in the home.

Penrose says homes can be designed to prevent many of these injuries occurring. The homes can incorporate intelligent design features such as improved lighting, non-slip surfaces in wet areas, better designed stairs and window latches to prevent injuries from slips, trips and falls.

He says the company is working with a number of councils throughout New Zealand to ensure sufficient quantities of age-friendly housing will be available as our population demographics evolve over the coming decades.

Auckland real estate agent Paul Neshausen welcomes the incentive to build more accessible homes for New Zealand’s ageing population.

He acknowledges there is a very real shortage of homes designed with the elderly and mobility restricted consumer in mind.

“I currently know of three couples with mobility issues including one where one of the duo has MS and consequently requires a home that meets their needs. One of the couples has been searching for the past two years for a home that either has a lift installed or is a single level home. They are no longer able to negotiate stairs, steep driveways or homes built on a sloping site,” says Neshausen.

Along with mobility issues he says there will be increasing pressure as retirees wanting to downsize look for single level homes and those with a lift installed.

He says developers and builders should consider customising properties to meet these set of requirements much the same way they target other market segments.

“Whether it's due to age, mobility issues or simply the need to downsize retirees and the elderly will make up a significant number of future buyers with specific requirements and this represents a unique opportunity to those in the building industry,” says Neshausen.

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Media release from Lifemark 3/8/16