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The Chartered Institute of Housing is the independent voice for housing and the home of professional standards

What can we learn from the U.S. about intergenerational housing?


With both young and old facing significant housing challenges, Ongo Homes policy and research officer Emma Garland is heading to the U.S. to learn more about intergenerational housing projects.

In October I’ll be embarking on a four-week trip to America to visit eight different intergenerational housing projects (where old and young live side by side). The USA is a country that has really embraced intergenerational living and there are a multitude of schemes across the country. Needless to say, I am excited but slightly daunted by the prospect of driving more than 1,400 miles through eight different states on the other side of the road! My trip is funded by a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship which provides a unique opportunity for British citizens to travel overseas to bring back fresh ideas and new solutions to today’s issues, for the benefit of others in the UK.

As CIH members unfortunately know all too well, the youngest and oldest in our society are facing some of the greatest housing challenges today. Home ownership for young families has halved in some of Britain's housing markets since the 1990s and the extension of the shared room rate to under 35s coupled with the Local Housing Allowance rate freeze, is making rented homes virtually inaccessible in some parts of the country. At the same time, we have a rapidly ageing population who are ageing better and living longer, but for whom loneliness and isolation are real problems. Older people also have limited housing choice in terms of tenure, location, size, affordability and the type of care/support available. Perhaps intergenerational housing could provide an alternative solution to the problems faced by both groups?

The concept of intergenerational housing is not well known in the UK and no purpose-built communities currently exist, although the trend is starting to shift as a recent blog shows. Taking inspiration from similar projects already established in Deventer (Netherlands), Lyon (France), Chicago and Cleveland, Cambridge is about to launch its Linkages project which will see PhD students move into a sheltered housing scheme. The UK is also about to get its first nursery inside a care home and Channel Four’s recent experiment Old People’s Home for Four Year Olds has brought this concept to the attention of the wider public. Again, this model takes inspiration from a similar scheme in Seattle

Although it’s not for everyone, the benefits of intergenerational living are clear. Developing planned co-housing with shared facilities and activities can create a sense of community where older people can benefit from reduced levels of loneliness and isolation, while improving their mood, confidence, physical strength, mobility, mental health and resilience to health problems. Younger generations can benefit too; they can draw on different generations for support (babysitting etc), experience a wider sense of family, gain access to affordable housing, show improvements in learning and employment skills, reduce the financial stress of university and have a potentially better living environment.

Despite these proven benefits, there is the perception that there will be friction between the generations as older people in their twilight years are harried by the screams of infants in prams. There is also the cost aspect to consider and worries around how, in practice, would such a purpose-built community work? By visiting the USA I hope to answer some of these questions. I’m aiming not only to change attitudes and contribute to the debate about the type of housing we should be planning and building, but also to develop a ‘how to do intergenerational housing’’ toolkit that providers can learn from.

I’ll visit eight projects which have approached intergenerational living in different ways. At each of these projects I’ll interview staff and residents in order to build up a practical picture of:

  • how the housing provider approached planning, designing and building (i.e. costs involved, specific design features needed, how they met the requirements of both age groups)
  • how they 'work' in practical terms (i.e. what level/type of resources does the housing provider need to have in place and what ongoing costs are there, how do they ensure everyone is safeguarded, what allocation criteria are used, how do they assess suitability?)
  • what do staff and residents think are the main benefits and downsides, does the experience of living in the project differ to what they expected (and is it better or worse), how far do they feel a sense of community and how much activity is led by residents?

I really want my trip to be of practical use so I’d encourage people to check out my blog and email me to let me know the sort of things you’d like me to find out. You can also follow me on Twitter @intergenhousing.

I’ll compile a final report at the end of my research which will be freely available via the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust website so look out for that in early 2018!

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