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Innovation in housing models for healthy longevity: A spotlight on Renting

November 2023 – George Lee

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Innovation in housing models for healthy longevity:
A spotlight on renting

Have you ever considered how the place you call home might influence your health and well-being as you age? The dynamics of housing, especially the surge in renting among middle-aged adults, reveal an unsettling narrative about our choices, their impact, and the urgent need for transformative housing models. 

Rents too high written on a blackboard

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Recent data from the English Housing Survey, released at the end of 2022, reveals more adults are opting for privately rented homes – indeed over the past decade, the number of middle-aged adults living in privately rented accommodation has witnessed a significant surge, although it is unclear whether this is a positive choice.  

The statistics are striking: 

— For people aged 45 to 54, the proportion living in privately rented homes has jumped by over 50%

— In the age group of 50 to 64, the proportion of renters has nearly doubled in the last decade, reaching 11% or 477,000 households in 2021-22

Rent trends are not uniform across all demographics. The proportion of income spent on private rent rises steadily with age, with individuals aged 75 and over allocating nearly half of their (often fixed) income to rent, according to the Centre for Ageing Better. This places a significant financial burden on older renters.

Disparities in housing tenure are even more pronounced among individuals from Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds in England. People aged 50-69 in these communities are significantly less likely to own their homes outright without a mortgage and more likely to be renting. People from Black ethnic groups, who are three times less likely to own their homes outright and more than twice as likely to be renting. Of those renting, about a quarter are renting privately.  

Renting privately accelerates biological ageing more than unemployment does.

Where we live can accelerate our biological ageing process according to research published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. The research reveals that living in a privately rented home is associated with significantly faster biological ageing, surpassing the impact of unemployment. Biological ageing, a reflection of how our body’s cells and tissues function, is influenced by various housing circumstances, including renting, stress from payment arrears, and environmental exposure to damp or pollution. Social housing, by contrast, with greater affordability and tenure security, has a less detrimental effect on biological ageing. 

The research reinforces the urgency of addressing the health implications of our housing choices and the need for more innovative solutions to reshape the future of housing – looking holistically at business models and drivers for housing across different life stages, and ensuring this is a truly cross generational conversation. 

To address the many and complex challenges, innovation needs be directed towards several key areas: 

— Affordable Housing Solutions: The rising trend of middle-aged adults turning to privately rented accommodation clearly shows the need for innovative, affordable housing options that ensure affordability, safety and comfort. 

— Environmental Sustainability: Housing should prioritise environmental sustainability. Innovations in sustainable building materials and energy-efficient designs can improve living conditions while reducing the environmental impact. 

— Health-Centric Housing: Homes designed with a focus on residents’ physical and mental well-being can reduce stress, promote physical activity, and enhance overall health. 

— Digital Solutions: Smart homes can monitor factors affecting residents’ health, enabling timely interventions and enhancing overall well-being, as well as supporting navigating payment systems etc. 

— Community Development: Innovative community planning and development can reduce social isolation, improve mental health, and build stronger social connections. 

— Supportive Housing: Innovative supportive housing models can provide stable housing and improved health outcomes for those in need. 

— Legislative Reforms: Housing policies should adapt to the changing housing landscape. Innovations in policy development can create a more equitable and supportive housing environment. 

We must reconsider housing models for longer lifespans and engage in inter-generational discussions about rent, homeownership, and income in later life.

We have the potential to reshape the housing landscape, alleviate the negative effects of accelerated biological ageing, and promote better health and well-being for all, regardless of their age or income. Safe and affordable housing is a vital determinant of our health and wellbeing.  

Photo by Getty Images on Unsplash

We need a radical rethink of housing models and security in the context of longer lives – and a robust inter-generational conversation about rent and home ownership, aligned to income in later life.  Western Societies still advocate home ownership – Voice members highlight that high rent still feels like throwing money down the drain and only helps others to create wealth.  Home ownership is still a symbol of economic and social mobility, and a foundation for intergenerational wealth transfer.   

The debate is ongoing.  What is a home? An asset?  A safe place?  An affordable safe place to live is a fundamental human right.  However, housing insecurity is rising at an alarming rate, and it is not unusual for rent to be over 30% of income. The underlying causes are extremely complex – housing insecurity can be a symptom of poverty, relationship breakdowns, challenging mental health, but saving for a more permanent solution is often impossible. Financial pressures, cost of living and interest rates rises mean housing for many is increasingly unaffordable.  

We need to unite our voices and demand change for a housing system that works for all, not just a few.

Rent reform in the UK is an urgent imperative. Escalating rental prices are pushing people to the edge of affordability, leading to difficult choices between housing and essentials. Tenant insecurity and the power imbalance with landlords continue to hinder community stability and safety. The hurdles to reform must not stand in the way of justice and progress. It’s time for decisive action to level the playing field, ensure affordable, quality housing, and empower renters. We need to unite our voices and demand change for a housing system that works for all, not just a few. 

Photo by Tierra Mallorca on Unsplash

Skepticism surrounds the UK government’s rent reform announced this month: vague details and a history of underwhelming housing initiatives raise doubts about its potential to address the issue of rising rents and housing affordability. Critics fear that vested interests and potential unintended consequences may hinder its effectiveness, emphasising the need for more radical innovation in the housing sector. 

This is not just about where we live but how we live. When housing models work, housing is more than shelter. It can be a source of vitality, well-being, and community strength. As we push for innovation and reform in the housing sector, we have the potential to create a healthier, more equitable society where people of all backgrounds and all ages can thrive. 

More Information

Curious about how to get involved in our research?

Voice® is a global community where every one of us has a vital role. We are a community of people from all walks of life, different ages, and backgrounds. Everyone has life experiences worth sharing. And we want to hear yours.  

Our aim is to find ways to improve our well-being and longevity and shape a brighter and longer future for generations to come. We believe we should all be given a voice in creating a new map for our lives in a world where we are living longer.  

The Voice community is the driving force at the heart of the National Innovation Centre for Ageing looking at every aspect of our lives as we grow older — where we live, learn, work, exercise, shop, eat, travel, the clothes we wear, and how we have fun and love 

We work together with organisations like the United Nations (UN) and the World Health Organisation  (WHO), global leaders like Pfizer, Jaguar and Procter & Gamble as well as pioneering startup businesses. We also partner with leading universities like Imperial, UCL and Stanford.  

As a Voice member you will have hundreds of opportunities and ways to get involved to bring about significant changes and shape a brighter and longer future for you and future generations.  

You can find out more information and ways to join Voice here.