The number of people in Ireland aged 65 and over will reach one million in the next decade. Compared to first-time buyers, their housing needs rarely grab headlines.
If you want to live independently for longer, moving to dedicated housing for older people is an option. But what are your choices and how much will it cost?
Join the club
If you turn 65 in the next decade, you are joining one of the fastest growing clubs in the State. By 2050, one in four of us will be in that age bracket. So if you’re in your mid-30s now and have just bought a four-bed house, that’s you. While a house with as many bedrooms and bathrooms as you can afford may be your priority now, by the time you’ve paid it off, your needs may differ.
Currently 85 per cent of people over the age of 65 own their homes. A 2016 survey by the Government Housing Agency found two-thirds of them want to live there for as long as possible. However if you need HSE homecare hours to support you to do so, you'll join a queue.
Some 15 per cent of the survey’s participants expressed a desire to move to a different property but in their community. The trouble is, suitable right-size homes are hard come by.
As we remain healthier for longer, our varied housing needs are falling between the cracks. Dedicated communities for older people work well in other countries. In Ireland however, we don’t have enough of them and they can be hard to get into.
So if you are an older person who would like to move to a right-sized home, adapted for your needs with support if you want it, what are your options?
Private sheltered housing
If you have means, renting in a private housing scheme for older residents is one route. Properties are likely to be in a secure development and have helpful adaptations like an accessible bathroom. You will pay more in the capital than down the country.
Newtownpark House in Blackrock Dublin is an example of a private scheme of 14 retirement bungalows located on the grounds of Newtownpark House nursing home. Bungalow rentals start from €1,950 per month according to the company's website which includes a weekly laundry service, grounds maintenance and service charges. Tenants pay their own utilities.
There are also optional extras like meals. Rent of €1,950 a month is not cheap but it’s about right for the area.
If you have already downsized but are still trying to sell your previous home, you will be regarded as having lived in the house for the last 12 months you owned it
Another example is Portumna Retirement Village in Tipperary. It comprises 22 one and two-bed independent living units. Residents range from their 70s to 90s, says general manager Peter Feerick. They live independently with the option of an emergency pendant linked to staff at a nursing home which shares the site.
Two-bed units rent for €500 per month, one-beds for €400. Some residents are recipients of HSE homecare hours which they have applied for themselves. Optional extras like meals, or the housekeeping and ironing service are popular with male residents, says Feerick.
Renting will likely mean selling your home in which you have equity to fund the move. The good news is if you sell your home to downsize and it has been your principle private residence – your main family home – there is no capital gains tax to be paid. Relief however is restricted for homes part-used for business purposes, those on grounds larger than one acre or those with development value.
If you have already downsized but are still trying to sell your previous home, you will be regarded as having lived in the house for the last 12 months you owned it.
Sometimes providers lease the buildings rather than own them, so it’s worth checking how long their lease is. You don’t want to move to have to move again if their lease runs out or they decide to change usage of the development.
Approved housing bodies
Councils and approved housing bodies also run age-friendly schemes. Approved housing bodies are not-for-profits that receive government funding to provide affordable housing. Finding out what housing might be available to you isn't straightforward. There is no one route. The criteria varies by local authority and by housing body.
A first step is to ring your local authority and find out what schemes exist in your area and what the criteria is. If you don’t qualify for local authority housing, they may be aware of approved housing body schemes for which you may qualify.
Some 75 per cent of apartments are allocated to social housing applicants nominated by the council
"It may be the case that the policy of a particular housing body is that even though you have income or private means, you have needs which mean you can qualify for this type of housing," says Roslyn Molloy of the State's Housing Agency. She cites McAuley Place in Naas and Sue Ryder House in Dalkey as examples. "Both of these have options for people in private housing to live there and make a financial contribution."
McAuley Place has 53 apartments for those aged 65 and older. With tearooms, an arts and culture centre and a community garden, its mission is to provide "independent living in a vibrant community". General manager Mark Hazzard describes it as "similar to a college campus for the elderly where they can live independently and get involved, or not, in what's going on".
Some 75 per cent of apartments are allocated to social housing applicants nominated by the council. The rest are allocated to private residents who pay key money of €45,000. This is put in a holding account drawn down in instalments of €17,000 on the date of signing the lease and then €7,000 per annum over the following four years.
If residents decide to leave, remaining money is refunded. In addition, weekly rent is also payable at the same rate as council nominated tenants of €99 for a single bed apartment and €104 for a double bed apartment. The tenant pays utilities.
Applicants must provide a doctor’s report confirming their ability to live independently. There is currently a waiting list of 90 people for private apartments.
Sue Ryder House in Dalkey is a development of 48 bungalows and apartments overlooking Dalkey Island and a short walk from the village. Residents can enjoy aerobics classes, computer classes, a reading room with the daily papers, a TV room and a communal dining area if they wish.
Again units are apportioned between council nominated and private residents. The weekly rent of €300 for two-bed unit and €195 for a one-bed that can be occupied by a couple or a single person includes 24-hour on-site support, lunch seven days a week, as well as a laundry and cleaning service.
The aim is to provide an older person with "hassle-free" living, says Sue Ryder Foundation chief executive, Gavin Reid. There is a waiting list of 300 for private places in Dalkey and the charity operates five other residences around the State.
Some local authorities like Cork City Council offer "right-sizing" options. If you are aged over 60 and living alone, you can request the council to purchase your home in return for a lifelong tenancy in a senior citizen dwelling. Applicants deemed to be living in accommodation not fit for their needs, who need housing on medical or compassionate grounds, or those unable to meet the cost of maintaining their homes or who can't afford an alternative, can apply.
The homeowner sells their home to the council at market value and then pays a financial contribution to the council from the net value of the sale. This is on a sliding scale based on their age.
For example, someone aged 70-79 will pay a quarter of the net proceeds of the sale to the council, retaining the balance. The person also pays a weekly rent calculated at 15 per cent of the principal earner’s assessable income which includes pensions and allowances amongst other things. Council tenants living alone may be eligible to apply too, transferring to a smaller council dwelling in the city.
Examples of right-size developments include Aras Mhuire, a 30-unit housing scheme for older people run by approved housing body Tuath on behalf of Cork City Council. It comprises one and two bedroom architect-designed A3 energy-rated houses and apartments arranged around a central courtyard.
If old age is always 15 years older than you are, then you have time to plan. Here's hoping the government is planning fast enough too
South Dublin County Council is about to promote a similar scheme to private homeowners. It has 52 council and housing body age-friendly homes under construction and a further 209 with planning approval in areas such as Templeogue, Old Bawn, Lucan and Sallypark.
It is about to appoint an age-friendly housing officer and its policy is the recommended template for other local authorities as part of an Age Friendly Ireland initiative.
What to look for
Whatever route you chose, and particularly if it entails selling your home, independent financial and legal advice is critical to understanding if the arrangement adds up for you. If you eventually need nursing home care, you may need money in the pot for this. The Housing Agency report, Models for an Aging Population, gives an overview of 19 of the best housing schemes for older people across the State, including lessons learned by residents and staff.
The report cites a development’s ethos, location, design, funding, the mix of residents, communal facilities and connectedness to the community as important success factors.
If old age is always 15 years older than you are, then you have time to plan. Here’s hoping the government is planning fast enough too. Not only is our population aging, the shape of households in Ireland is changing too.
While in 1966, there were 4.2 persons in the average household in Ireland, by 2014 it was 2.7 and the downward trend is expected to continue, says the CSO. Irish people are living longer, having fewer children, separating from spouses more or deciding not to marry or have children more.
More people are remaining in the rental sector too. This is a new departure and will impact the funding for elder care schemes that currently bank on home ownership.