"Location, location, location."

We’ve all heard this catchcry from real estate agents, but location is essential in the housing considerations of people over 65.

Retirees need greater access to transport and services, have more time for leisure and community activities, and have less need for large houses with numerous bedrooms, parents’ retreats and three car garages.

While many over the age of 65 want to remain close to family and friends, familiar services and long-established activities, we are increasingly seeing retirees pushed to developments on the urban fringes.

Analysis by the Retirement Living Council has found a consistent trend across capital cities, with the 65-plus crowd moving further away from CBD locations to outer suburbs where service provision and support infrastructure is at its lowest.

This movement is due to a number of factors, primarily affordability and availability of appropriate housing within their areas of choice.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare argues that most people want to ‘age in place’ to remain connected with their community and to familiar services, but that they don’t necessarily want to remain in the family home. Helping people to downsize can lower public health costs, and ensure older Australians retain their independence for longer – a better result for all.

Retirement villages offer an ideal solution, providing a number of substantial economic and social benefits. There are currently around 180,000 seniors – 5.3 per cent of the over 65 population – living in retirement villages around Australia. This is expected to grow to 7.5 per cent by 2025.  Thoughtfully-located facilities in existing suburbs can offer older Australians the opportunity to ‘age in place’ in their own community, while vacating larger homes to enable demand to better match supply.

As we raise the age of retirement, apartment living in the city is emerging as an attractive option for ‘transitionals’ – semi-retirees wanting access to lifestyle, part-time employment and services in a more compact, connected community than the one they enjoyed when they had a house full of children in the suburbs.

To ensure we meet the rising demand for safe, supportive housing for our older citizens, we need accessible planning rules that encourage ‘right sizing.’

In some cities, zoning restrictions, changes to unit titling laws and lease variation charges limit redevelopment within existing neighbourhoods. The quintessential ‘granny flat’ of days gone by provided low-impact, mostly single storey housing that was both affordable and appropriate for ageing in the community. In some cities, planning restrictions have stifled this type of development in existing suburbs and undermined the case for smaller, smarter homes.

A number of industry initiatives have been established to help people make informed choices as they consider retirement living options. Livable Housing Australia has produced simple and straightforward guidelines to support the design and development of homes that are more adaptable, versatile and livable. The Livable Housing Quality Mark represents a third party tick of approval that gives residents confidence that their homes will meet their needs now and in the future.

The Lifemark Village Scheme has been developed to ensure retirement village operators are accountable and responsive to residents, and to give residents confidence that their village is being managed ethically and professionally.

Our challenge is to create communities where older people want to be. This means engaging in an ongoing conversation about how we build cities that cater to this growing group of our citizens. It means considering those over 65 in our master planning. Last but not least, it means creating communities where opportunities for connection, engagement and empowerment abound.