While they provide units that are on average 48 per cent cheaper than the median house price in the same postcode, more retirement communities are needed to meet Australia’s rapidly ageing population and to avoid the housing crisis becoming even worse.
With two million people around the country currently aged over 75 – a number that will grow to 3.4 million over the next two decades – retirement communities are a housing solution whose time has come, with a value proposition that is tough to beat.
Despite evolving from a property-focused sector in years gone by to one that focuses on health, wellbeing, and care, retirement villages are often confused with residential aged care facilities.
They are not the same thing. Retirement communities offer a unique housing option that enhances wellbeing and lifespan for older Australians, and delay entry into aged care.
After RetireAustralia Chief Executive Dr Brett Robinson’s father passed away five years ago in a nursing home that offered what he said was great clinical care, but lacked homeliness, that experience was at the front of his mind when he started to think about accommodation options for his mother.
Robinson, who is also national vice-president of the Retirement Living Council, said his mother hasn’t looked back since moving into an age-friendly community last year.
“Mum is loving it. She is well looked after, and she’s totally immersed herself in it. We are really pleased we made the decision now rather than later,” he said.
“Initially, my brothers and my sister didn’t understand as they saw the move as more of a property transaction.
“They didn’t understand the value of community and social connections that a village like Drayton Villas offers. There is this fear that by making the move that a person is losing control.
“However, that is far from the case. Moving into a retirement village is about maintaining your independence, having privacy and social connection, as well as having support and care when you need it. Most people who make the move realise that they should have done it sooner.”
Levande Chief Operations Officer, Michelle Bruggeman, echoed Robinson’s experiences regarding residents wishing they had entered an age-friendly community sooner.
“So many retirees put off the move into retirement living, yet our residents invariably tell me it’s the best thing they’ve ever done,” she said.
Aveo Group Chief Executive Officer and Retirement Living Council president, Tony Randello, believes a lack of supply is the largest hurdle currently facing the retirement living sector.
“The development pipeline across the industry is not going to be sufficient for the ageing population,” he said.
“This is largely due to the difficulty industry faces in accessing suitable sites for development in urban areas, where we find ourselves unable to compete on price with residential developers who can sell to a much broader market, not limited by age.
“Add to that the challenging construction environment, and it’s very difficult to make the inner urban development of retirement villages viable.
“The government also needs to review its downsizing incentives, which right now actually disincentivise retirement living.”
Robinson identified planning authorities and aged care reform as two further barriers that he sees for the sector.
“Governments in Australia are not enabling the retirement living sector to move at the speed required to deliver the supply of seniors housing that the country needs,” he said.
“They need to reduce red tape and fast track the development of retirement villages in communities where older Australians already live.
“These villages are fertile ground for innovative solutions that enable residents to age-in-place by accessing care that changes as their needs change so that they can continue to live in their home and their community until end of life.”
Randello said industry’s focus needs to be on switching its mindset from property to a sector that provides hospitality and support services.
“That’s how we can increase our market share, with the current generation of older Australians looking for more than just bricks and mortar,” he said.
“We’re working with experts from the hotel sector to find new ways to bring joy through our dining services, for example.
“We’re also introducing a more flexible services model, allowing people to pick and choose the services they want as their later life journey progresses.”
Importantly, Bruggeman said continual improvement of resident wellbeing and the recognition of the valuable work being done by the sector are targets industry is working towards.
“One of the key opportunities we’re focusing on is improving the wellbeing journey we can offer to our residents. The entire industry has a big part to play in this,” she said.
“The other opportunity is using technology cleverly in villages to make life easier for our team members and our residents.
“I’m also looking forward to the time when there’s a far broader appreciation of what an outstanding lifestyle retirement living can provide for many older Australians, in terms of healthcare, housing, community, and security.”
And for these reasons, said RLC Executive Director Daniel Gannon, “the retirement living industry is a ready-made solution for some of the biggest challenges facing governments around Australia – from supply right through to care offerings for an additional 1.4 million over 75s by 2040”.
But for this sector to hit its straps, it requires parliamentary stakeholders prepared to listen.