Just because you’re getting older doesn’t mean you should downsize your housing or move into specialist accommodation.
That’s the view of Dizy Martin, who lives with her husband Dave in Levershulme, Manchester and is trying to change the way experts view ageing.
The 67-year-old believes local authorities, planners and developers need to shift their emphasis from downsizing to “rightsizing” when it comes to planning housing provision for older people, to prevent more pensioners being forced out of homes they love.
Rightsizing is described as an older person’s active, positive choice to move home as a means of improving their quality of life and Martin’s story comes as a new report reveals a lack of suitable homes for older people.
The mum-of-two, who also has one grandchild, says she decided to take matters into her own hands after she and her husband started thinking about what kind of housing they might want as they grew older – setting up a project called Manchester Urban Cohousing (MUCH).
And Martin’s experience with her own parents led her to look into the concept of co-housing – where more than one household can decide to club together.
“My mum has two younger sisters who are identical twins, who did not get married and have always lived together,” she told HuffPost UK.
“When my parents were deciding what to do when they were older, the four of them decided to live together.
“They ended up buying one house and lived together to save money, and it worked so well for them.
“They knew that in each of their pairs, one person was going to get ill or disabled or die before the other and rather than the remaining person being left on their own, they would still have the other people to support them.
“Once our children flew the nest, we began talking to our friends about what else might be out there and decided on the concept of shared housing.”
Martin’s new project aims to create a new sustainable co-housing community in South Manchester for people aged 50 and over, where families and friends can leave together.
Martin said: “Our aim is that our community will be made up of 15 to 20 residences, housing between 18 and 30 people.
“We are committed to living sustainably and, where feasible, using renewable technologies and resources within our community.
“We aim to build a place that helps us all live creatively and grow older together.
“With co-housing, you are choosing to live with a group of people and share some things but still live your lives separately.
“We like the idea of having support as we age but also our own independence.”
Martin believes there are too many stereotypes when it comes to housing for older people.
“We are not in denial about the ageing process but we don’t want to be told how to live our lives because we are getting older”
She said: “It is either aimed at rich older people who have the resources to live where they like, or people on lower incomes who end up in supported housing.
“People are living longer and their circumstances are very different but policymakers cannot see this.”
She added: “There are a group of nine of us who are developing this co-housing project and there are people within our group who are doing amazing things and don’t want to be seen as being in need.
“Policymakers and decision makers need to make some real shifts towards what people really want rather than going for the usual boxes they build for ‘old people provision’.
“We are not saying everyone want co-housing like us, but there are not really many options out there.
“We are working on this project but it is difficult to find land to get it up and running.”
Martin also believes the advantages older people bring to communities should not be overlooked nor should they be expected to uproot and leave their support network.
“Most people are already embedded into the community in which they live and have an extensive network of friends and acquaintances,” she said.
“Many older people are very active in keeping services going in their community and do voluntary work and are committed and experienced.
“They are not people you can just move to a completely different place as their networks are where they already live.”
Research shows many elderly people considering downsizing want to stay in the area they already live in.
Martin said: “But as the options are so limited, they either have to stay somewhere not fit for purpose or move somewhere completely different and lose their support network.”
A Rightsizing report, commissioned by Greater Manchester Combined Authority and funded by Centre for Ageing Better, revealed many older people were staying put in their homes until a sudden crisis such as divorce, eviction or failing health forced them to move.
Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, said: “In March this year, Greater Manchester was recognised by the World Health Organization as the UK’s first age-friendly city region.
“This is great news, but more action is needed if we are to meet the challenges of a fast-growing older population and make life better for us all as we age.
“Thanks to devolution we have the opportunity to do things differently here, and I believe we can make Greater Manchester the best place in the UK to grow older.
“To succeed we need to make big changes at a strategic level – not just on housing, but also health, social care, transport and employment.
“Research like this and the work of the Ageing Hub within our Combined Authority has helped position Greater Manchester as world-leaders when it comes to research on ageing, and I urge policymakers to capitalise on this expertise we have available.”
The research also discovered older people on low and middle incomes were finding themselves trapped in homes no longer appropriate for them as they aged.
But despite common assumptions, most older homeowners in the UK don’t want to downsize or enter specialist accommodation and many over-50s cannot move home in the way that they would like, due to a lack of suitable housing options and inadequate provision of support and advice.
Rachael Docking, housing lead at the Centre for Ageing Better, said: “It’s often assumed that people want to ‘downsize’ to more manageable properties as they age.
“In fact, people in later life have the same desires to improve quality of life as any of us.
“We need to move away from a focus on delivering homes ‘for older people’ and deliver an adequate and diverse supply of adaptable, accessible housing that’s fit for people of all ages.”
Just 3.4% of people over the age of 50 move home each year – half as many moves compared to the rest of the population – and only 7% of UK homes meet the most basic accessibility standards.
Although those with higher levels of wealth can more easily move, and those on the lowest incomes receive more support from social care providers, those on low and middle incomes can find themselves trapped in homes which are no longer appropriate for them as they age.
Prof Stefan White, from Manchester School of Architecture at Manchester Metropolitan University, who delivered the research report, said: “Our report argues that ‘rightsizing’ enables a more proactive and nuanced discussion about the diversity of requirement for older people’s housing.
“Rightsizing re-frames the housing offer for older people in terms of the actual availability and accessibility of the options they need and desire.
“While this requires housing strategies to engage more fully with the local circumstances of older people, we believe it releases great potential for positive action.”
Martin hopes her project will help to change attitudes and improve options for those facing dilemmas like her in the future.
“The stereotype is that all older people want to live somewhere smaller and that their ambitions are reduced,” she said.
“We are not in denial about the ageing process, but we don’t want to be told how to live our lives because we are getting older.”