In my short career in social housing, I have noticed that many programs revolve around helping work able households improve self-sufficiency. There is a national program (FSS) just to do that in coordination with housing programs. However; housing providers often serve a large number of senior and disabled households. While there are a number of great examples of senior programs within housing authorities, the programs are not keeping up with the growing population of elderly assisted. While I lived in the Netherlands, I visited and learned about a number of excellent ideas created to help assist seniors in various housing programs. Some programs revolved around mixing generations while others were innovative ideas around helping those with dementia.
Outside of Amsterdam lays a small village which is sometimes to referred to as ‘’Dementia Village’’. It is considered one of the most cutting edge elder care facilities in the world. The main focus is that elderly can live normal life with facilities like a town square, theater, garden and post office all available. Cameras are set up around the village to keep an eye out on residents and the staff at various parts of the town all are caregivers trained to help those with dementia. The costs of doing anything in the village is factored into living there. Finances can become much harder when dementia sets in so the plan by the company is to simplify wherever possible. It is reported that the people living at this facility are much happier than those living in other standard elder care homes.
The design of living is also much different. People do not live in buildings with long corridors or wards. No, instead they live 6-7 to a house with caretakers also assigned. Each home is uniquely designed and furnished around the time when the residents there begin to lose their memory. If you were to visit the homes, you might see designs from the 1950’s, 1960’s or even 2000’s because it helps residents feel more at home. Over 250 full and part time staff care for the residents. They take on roles within the village like working at the grocery stores, movie theatres or post office clerks.
The program was originally funded by the Dutch Government at $25 million to develop and build. The actual cost of care is around $8,000 per month but the government will subsidize a family as needed. Cost is dependent on income and never exceeds $3,600 a month. A private room in the USA can cost up to $90,000 for patients in an assisted living building. The quality of live in most assisted living places in the USA and other countries is not high especially compared with the costs of living there.
It is an interesting way of looking at how environment affects behavior and mood. In a regular nursing home, the building and the rooms look very clinical. That means it makes a person feel sick and unable to help his or her self. The idea in this Dutch elder care facility is to make residents feel like they are at home and should be able to help themselves to the degree needed. Instead of surrounding the elderly with negativity, it allow them live their lives to the fullest of their ability. The idea is of course expensive but helps us think about solutions to the problem of helping our loved family members enjoy the best possible experience regardless of the situation.
The Humanitas Example:
Assisting with and helping the elderly is a very important part of the Dutch housing system. In some instances social housing companies actually own and operate group houses and nursing homes. The group home situation in the Netherlands changed. The government wants people to live in place for as long as possible so many of the group homes are being closed. There are quite a few excellent examples of innovative housing programs in the Netherlands geared towards helping elderly. One such project allows students to live rent free alongside elderly resident as part of a project to ward off the negative effects of aging. In return for a small rent free apartment, the Humanitas retirement home in Deventer asks the students to spend at least 30 hours helping residents per month. They can do anything from watching sports, offering company when seniors are ill which can help combat loneliness.
The program ensures a bit of the outside world is brought into the home and that a warmth between all parties is created. Altogether there are around 6 students sharing the building with 160 seniors. They can come and go as they wish but they must adhere to one golden principle: Do not be a nuisance to the elderly. It is an interesting idea to increase the relationships between various generations. There is not a shortage of programs like this in the Netherlands.
In Beekmos, Houten, Netherlands an innovative program combined elderly woman and young women often who had children and social issues. The partnering agencies on this project were Stichting Timon a young adult welfare organization and Habion a housing corporation specialized in affordable housing for seniors. The program is a project of housing for young mothers/young adolescents living with elderly residents in an “assisted living environment”. (Social Housing in Europe, Michela Braga and Pietro Palvarini 2013) There are 17 units of housing in the project. 13 are dedicated to the young mothers or young girls who can not live with their families. The other four units are reserved for coaches selected from the elderly population. The elderly residents serve as a coach for the young women. The elderly bring life experience and can offer useful advice which is profitable for the young ladies. On the reverse end, the relationships are good for the elderly because it offers the opportunities to add a sense of meaning to their lives and builds relationships.
The design and location of the building are important. The building itself it located in the city center. That makes it easier for both the seniors and the young ladies to access services and goods. The seniors live on the ground floor while the upper apartments are reserved for the young ladies. The rooftop terrace, collective meeting spaces and consulting rooms create spaces that encourage meeting and intermingling.
The innovative features of this program are as follows:
- “It is an intergenerational project. Complementary needs of two social groups are combined in order to create synergies.
- It not only responds to housing problems, but also to the need to build social relationships.
- The project aims at creating an assisted living environment providing additional services to housing.
- The project was entirely designed and conducted through a partnership between third sector stakeholders (non profit providers and social housing companies).”- (Social Housing in the European Union page 29)
I find this program and others like it bold and innovative in nature. Combining the interests of young and old to form an affordable housing program is a great concept. I found other programs in Europe that match unlikely candidates. One example is a project in Spain between the city of Valladolid and the Municipal Land Housing Company. They created a project where seniors over 65 and college students lived together under one roof. The elders are able to extend social relationships and the students obtain cheaper rents by providing social support to their older neighbors. The University actually chooses the students based on the agreement reached with the social housing company. The housing company also decides what tasks the students will take on. The project is considered successful in that college students have clearly defined roles and the elderly know who to call in case they need help. (Affordable Housing and the Challenge of an ageing population in Europe-Success Stories for Preparing the Future. Housing Europe)
Out of the box thinking is what it will take to truly house and nurture various special populations. When looking at real estate development strategies, housing companies should be thinking about how design might help foster a better living environment. Mixing generations and ensuring active programming are all tools to create and sustain meaningful programs aimed at helping seniors live their golden years in the best possible situation.
***All Credit goes to Josh Planos who wrote the article “The Dutch Village Where Everyone Has Dementia” and Carey Reed who wrote Dutch Nursing Home Offers rent free housing to students-for the sources of my information. I also want to thank Yvonne Witter from Aedes in The Hague for meeting with me and explaining some of the innovative programs.***