Learning from intergenerational housing projects in the USA

Emma Garland, Policy and Research Officer at Ongo Homes, tells us about her forthcoming trip to the USA to visit different intergenerational housing projects 

In October I’ll be embarking on a four-week trip to the USA 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. 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.

Why?

The youngest and oldest in our society are facing the greatest housing challenges today. Home ownership for young families has halved in some of Britain’s leading housing markets since the 1990s and the extension of the Shared Accommodation Rate (SAR) 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 very limited housing choice in terms of tenure, location, size, affordability and the type of care/support available. 

What do I want to achieve?

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. (A scheme called Homeshare exists in the south of England, but this is limited to an elder person offering accommodation to a younger person at a reduced rate in exchange for some support.)

There are many reasons why this may be so (as a recent blog by Wendy Griffin points out), but one of the main reasons has to be perception – worries that there will be friction between the generations as older people in their twilight years are harried by youths playing football or the screams of infants in pushchairs. Yet the benefits of intergenerational living are clear, and although it’s not for everyone, it could provide an alternative solution to some of the housing problems currently facing the UK.

Indeed, it has been shown that developing planned co-housing with shared facilities and activities can invoke a sense of community where older people can benefit from reduced levels of loneliness and isolation, whilst 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.

I would therefore like to help to change attitudes and contribute to the debate about the type of housing we should be planning and building.

More about my trip

I’ll visit eight projects which have approached intergenerational living in different ways with a view to creating a “how to do intergenerational housing’’ toolkit. 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 to let me know the sort of things you’d like me to find out. I’ll also compile a final report at the end of my research which will be freely available via the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust web site.

To find out more about my trip, to track my progress or to ask any questions, please visit my blog: www.intergenerationalhousingblog.wordpress.com, follow me on twitter @intergenhousing or you can e-mail me at: emma.garland@ongo.co.uk