AS I SEE IT
BY MARIANNE HERON
WHILE there is much to be welcomed in the Governments Housing For All plans, it’s hard not to see one aspect of the scheme as yet another heavy handed hint that older people should do their bit to solve the housing crisis by moving out of their homes.
One of the ideas being floated by Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien is that people should be offered an incentive to downsize from family homes particularly to apartments.
Apart from the fact that the incentive involved — a mere half a percent of the 1pc Stamp Duty on the purchase of a downsized property — is insultingly small there are a number of issues involved, not least that older people should not be made to feel guilty about continuing to live in their own homes. They may not wish to move from loved, familiar surroundings, nor if they are open to a move, do they necessarily want to move into a flat, without a garden, without the benefit of being able step out their own front door talk to neighbours or take the air.
Retirement villages purpose-built for folk over 50 and popular in the US, Australia and South Africa have barely registered on the horizon here. We simply aren’t attuned to the idea that when you reach a certain age, you can downsize, opt for the convenience of a secure, managed estate, often with nursing care or frail-care facilities on site and still have some money to trouser from the sale of the family home.
Unreadiness for the notion was signalled by a loud ouch! of protest when Minister for Older People Jim Daly trod on a collective corn by suggesting that seniors might be encouraged to downsize to age friendly accommodation and free up family size homes to help solve the housing crisis. Sadly, the age dividend, as life expectancy stretches by a dramatic three years every decade, is too often framed in negative terms like bed blocking and pension costs, rather than celebrated. On top of this the veiled give me your homes demand- a bit like adding insult to injury- isn’t going down too well with silver sector.
The only options as you get older are stay home or go to a nursing home. The idea of being turned out of a hard- won family home is difficult for folk to stomach when alluring alternatives are barely in evidence.
Having lived in Cape Town for 20 years I could see at first hand the boom in retirement villages in the Cape . Seniors are freed of the M word (maintenance in larger homes), safer, for security is a big issue there, able to avail of facilities like swimming pools, communal dining halls and organised social events and enjoy themselves with their peers. Ownership arrangements like life rights, where retirees buy a life time ownership of homes in retirement villages help to keep the price of those properties down.
Older people value their communities why should they move away from the supportive familiar? Smaller homes are relatively more expensive and the cost of moving high. And so far developers have been slow to spot the silver opportunity in building age friendly estates for what is now the fastest growing sector in Irish society where the number of over 65s will double to 22pc of the population over the next 30 years.
Another idea proposed by the Minister in the paper Housing Options for Our Ageing Population was home splitting or sharing. Hmm, home splitting isn’t exactly cheap and what about the difficulties local authorities over planning applications and there are the tax disincentives to consider. And home sharing? Well that idea may have the sting of tenement dwelling, something we have left behind to the extent that Dublin now has its own tenement museum.