- Words by Fátima Sáez del Cano
Every crisis brings an opportunity and in the case of Madrid the steep property crash of the last decade has opened a way for the city’s developers and authorities to pioneer a new approach to an age-old problem.
The downturn means that there has been little property development and low levels of public investment over the last 10 years. Now that confidence is returning, the needs of older adults are back on the agenda and there is an opportunity to implement best practices and designs that have emerged over the past decade.
New concepts coming through include shared housing aimed at single women with children, who can support each other with childcare. This idea could be easily adapted to suit older people, overcoming the issue of loneliness and enabling citizens to share costs of living and social care without having to move to a care home.
New large-scale land developments in Madrid are now required to incorporate 25% social housing and this could be adapted to include an allocation for older people.
In terms of new properties, companies are starting to look at what will appeal to older people. They have to take account of the culture in Spain, which is very much family focused. Grandparents play a large role in helping to take care of their grandchildren for example, which means that families want to live close to (but not with) each other. Therefore, there needs to be a variety of housing to enable people to move within their existing community.
This means the concept of a retirement village that is popular in the United States will not attract much interest in Spain. Instead, the industry needs to focus on designing accommodation that is ready now but to which improvements can be made later.
We need a revolution that leads to the creation of better alternatives, which will in turn stimulate demand and lead to further innovation. There is a huge opportunity for an industry that is at a new starting point. The challenge is to produce something that is attractive to a 55- or 65-year old who may have few additional requirements, but which is flexible and can respond to their changing needs as they age.
This will include the flexibility to turn traditional layouts into open plan spaces and providing a main bedroom and bathroom that can still suit the needs of older adults with mobility issues.
New large-scale land developments in Madrid are now required to incorporate 25% social housing
There is also a huge potential for developers to collaborate with services companies to install features that can help older people, such as incorporating technology that is very intuitive for older people to use and which adds greatly to their wellbeing.
The government too can help. Four out of five Spaniards own their home, but it is often their only financial asset, which means that they are reluctant to sell in order to finance living in a retirement home, fearing they will leave nothing to their children when they pass away.
The cost of buying and selling homes, including a property transfer tax and notary and registration fees for the buyer and commissions and capital gains taxes for the seller, are high and could be reduced as an incentive to move.
The key for developers is to educate the generation who are nearing retirement, helping them understand that there are options between their existing home and a care home. If this group trust developers to deliver high-quality homes that are flexible enough to adapt to their changing needs and at a price that is not just aimed at wealthier households, they are more likely to make the move.
The future may lie in the suburbs. Although many of Madrid’s older adults live in the city centre, its history and layout make it hard to find new sites or demolish existing buildings that often have no lifts.
The move of younger people to suburbs which are well connected to the centre by metro and where there is a supply of ready to develop land, offers the potential to build new neighbourhoods where multi-generations of families can more easily live closer for longer. That would be a positive legacy from the crisis.