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Better housing for better ageing

New research exposes this significant market failure.

National Seniors’ call for more ageing-friendly housing design and construction has been supported by new research that finds current housing hinders the delivery of quality care to ageing Australians. 

About 1.3 million older Australians need help with their everyday activities, yet only two thirds have those needs met. Eighty-three per cent of over-60s prefer to live and age in home their own.

The new report by RMIT researchers found the home significantly influenced the quality of home care services. 

Of the 100 caregivers surveyed (paid and family), more than 90 per cent said house design impacted their capacity to deliver services. 

Market failure

The report identified step-free entrances, wide corridors, hobless showers and ground-level toilets as the most important features needed to enable people to age well in their own homes. 

Lead researcher Dr Sarah Sinclair said the findings should encourage home buyers to think about their future needs and the features their homes should have to support ageing at home. 

“The coronavirus stay-at-home restrictions have highlighted the importance of the home and neighbourhood in promoting physical and social wellbeing in older people.”

Through our Federal Budget submission, National Seniors says the construction sector and housing market is failing older Australians and wants the government to support new and innovative design and downsizing options.  

What is needed are small scale residential developments with accessible design features that allow older people to downsize to a more suitable home without having to be locked into a village model.  

The federal government can facilitate this by providing innovation grants to developers, subsidies for housing incorporating accessible or universal design. It should also work with state and territory counterparts to ensure planning laws enable innovative housing solutions. 


Australians are often reluctant to downsize to more age friendly housing. While this can simply be because of strong emotional attachment to the family home, there are also economic barriers that undermine downsizing.  

Some retirees are deterred by the cost of downsizing – stamp duty expenses and the potential impacts on the pension. Current means testing arrangements create a disincentive to downsize as it may impact on pension entitlements.

However, there are also supply-side issues contributing to this problem. The market simply isn’t delivering enough housing suited to older people. Encouraging seniors to downsize to age-appropriate housing would help create jobs in the building industry at a time when this is needed. 

Better housing design choice

The RMIT report says age-friendly design features include: 

  • step free entrances and easy entry from parking spaces 

  • wider internal doors and corridors 

  • hobless shower recess 

  • reinforced bathroom and toilet walls with grabrails installed where needed 

  • ground level toilet 

  • non slip flooring and lever taps. 

The report urges policy makers to reconsider the best forms of capital expenditure to support the delivery of public care services, and the housing needs of an ageing population. 

It echoes our conclusion that suitable housing to age in place is undersupplied in the market and age-specific housing development is often not an attractive investment. That’s why government needs to play a bigger role. 

Join our Better Housing campaign to improve housing options for you and other older Australians. 

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