Housing Europe participates, celebrates and supports the EU Day of Solidarity between Generations. We have interviewed two experts among our membership who shed light to the co-relation between housing and ageing issues.
Muriel Boulmier (MB), former Chair of Housing Europe Working Group on Housing and Ageing, CEO of Housing Company Ciliopee and Dagmar Reiß-Fechter (DRF), former chair of Housing Europe Section of private not-for-profit housing sector have illustrated extensive experience and expertise on ageing-related issues, focusing particularly on the role of housing. Both of them led the Housing Europe contribution to the European Year on Active Ageing and Solidarity 2012, including their keynote presentations at our conference on "Ageing and Affordable Housing" that took place in Brussels in November 2012.
Less than three years after the above mentioned milestone and on the occasion of the EU Day of Solidarity between Generations Housing Europe has asked both Mrs. Boulmier and Mrs. Reiß-Fechter to share their views on where EU stands regarding the state of the EU ageing policy. Were enough steps taken since 2012? What still needs to be done? Is there a shift of the public opinion? What are the main elements of independent living in our days?
Were any significant steps taken since the European Year on Active Ageing and Solidarity 2012 to renew public policies, so that they can anticipate demographic change in a more effective way? If so, could you mention an example?
MB: I do not think that our political leaders have today become aware of the huge stakes we will have to face in the coming years due to demographic changes. At least, they have not demonstrated a strong will to tackle them, so far. I deeply regret it.
DRF: Due to my own perspective, I can assess only the German situation. The topic has well arrived in the political discourse, which is illustrated by the following examples:
- Building legislation has been amended in such a way that new buildings without barrier-free dwellings is no more possible. In cases of refurbishment, the owner has to strive for as less barriers as possible under the given circumstances.
- Public buildings and spaces have to be rearranged and made barrier-free within a defined period of time.
- Ambient-assisted living (AAL) is broadly discussed. Related events and trade fairs are already well established.
- Public funding of senior-friendly conversion is a new focus again and
- The Federal Ministry for Construction and Housing has launched so-called workshop-talks about living in old age in order to bring all stakeholders in Germany around a table to identify new strategic and operational approaches for barrier-free housing for the elderly.
Do you think that a shift in public opinion towards active ageing can be observed?
MB: Yes, absolutely. Being old is not the same thing at 60 as at 85 years of age. A new generation appears, namely the 60-80 year-olds. These new seniors are more and more familiar with new technologies, fit and generally in good health, some of them are used to travelling. They are nothing like the traditional grandparents we used to know some decades ago, at least in terms of external appearance. Logically, mentalities should change consequently in the coming years.
DRF: The shift can be observed without any doubt. Persons who are retiring nowadays are still active, have technical affinity and want to shape their life themselves.
The target to increase autonomy and life expectancy in good health by 2 years in the EU by 2020 is feasible?
MB: It is only feasible on the condition that public authorities put the necessary organisation on the table in order to support the adaptation of our society to ageing.
DRF: I do not think that issuing such targets is really helpful, because the new orientation of a society is a process that will last far beyond the year 2020.
What are the main elements that can guarantee independent living for the elderly?
MB: A house that is safe and comfortable, adapted to the new needs linked to mobility loss due to ageing.
DRF: I would sum them up in 4 points:
- Low-barrier or, even better, barrier-free dwellings
- Low-barrier residential environment
- Assuring infrastructure in walking distance and/or low-barrier public passenger transport
- Availability of local offer for consulting, encounters, assistance and care
How can solidarity between generations be better expressed at policy level? What could/should be the key financial and social measures?
MB: We should stop opposing the youth and the elderly. In housing for instance, we should stop talking about “design for old” and rather speak about “design for all”. Efforts have to be made in building bridges between generations at all levels, including pensions (reforms must occur), enterprises (while they will have to work longer, seniors can be tutors for the young potentials), housing (adaptation of the new building to growing needs, as well as adaptation of the already existing ones) etc.
DRF: At political level we need a growing awareness for the fact that anything which is good for the elderly is actually good for all generations. The requirements under point 4 and their implementation will create a better basis for families, single living, young and elderly persons.
The main prerequisites are:
Sufficient funding for public authorities, so that they can carry out the low-barrier or barrier-free conversion of the public space and enough funding of incentives for private investors. To achieve also the social targets, alliances at local level need to be created with the mission to analyse the requirements mentioned under point 4 and to proceed to the necessary adaptations and changes.