As part of the Housing Solutions for Seniors meeting, organized by the Ageingnomics Research Center, we had the opportunity to interview José Antonio Granero, architect, and Juan Fernández-Aceytuno, CEO of Sociedad de Tasación, with whom we talked about the challenges we must face as a society to adapt the housing supply to the new life circumstances of the over 55s , but also to offer our young people a vision of the future in this same respect.
TEXT: RAFAEL CONDE PHOTOGRAPHS: ALBERTO CARRASCO
José Antonio Granero, architect
Is housing such a determining factor in our quality of life?
It certainly is, and I think we have become especially aware of this after the health crisis and the pandemic; of the importance of the built environment, of how housing is a determining factor in our quality of life, in addition to our physical well-being, social and personal relationships, and of the importance of the city. When we talk about older people, the field of housing and residence and the environment of the city are the two major challenges we need to address to make our surroundings friendlier and more comfortable, not only for the elderly but for all people.
When we talk about improving the living conditions for older people, is it inevitable that we analyze the adaptability and accessibility of housing?
We have to work on new types of housing and residential solutions for older adults where, alongside changes in the physical elements, we study lighting, signage and the colors that are most appropriate when people begin to have cognitive or visual impairments. Everything that has been researched in the fields of medicine, psychology and gerontology should also be applied.
Accessibility is a fundamental concept, not only in terms of entering the home but also in the different spaces, in the dimensions of the doors, and various other elements and devices. Up to this point, every time we have talked about accessibility what we have done is attach prosthetic solutions to the already-built elements and, in general, the results have been quite ugly. We have looked for functionality, but the accessibility-related elements have been sadly lacking in design. We have the extraordinary challenge of asserting another fundamental right, the right to beauty.
“Lifelong” housing projects go far beyond mere adaptation and accessibility. In some cases they are conceived as spaces for intergenerational coexistence. Are these projects viable?
I am a great believer in everything that has to do with intergenerational issues.
I have experience of working with young people in startups through an entrepreneurship institute where we also incorporated people who are 75 and 80 years old and who had a wealth of experience. That combination was fantastic because it generated enthusiasm on both sides and it was extremely interesting because we were talking about a generation of older people with a keen interest in new technology.
What we must avoid, without a doubt, is the generation of ghettos. Older people do not want to live just with people their own age, they like to live in diverse, mixed environments. We must nurture their environments through two key concepts: aging at home or in home-like situations, with smaller living units where independence and autonomy are encouraged and where the elderly are equipped with what they need to keep them vital and active. And, on the other hand, we must facilitate coexistence, social relations and communication elements, since loneliness is very tough to deal with.
In your opinion, what are the main challenges involved in adapting to this new demographic scenario from the perspective of urban planning and architecture?
The first challenge, and it is very basic, is to address the housing stock, to rehabilitate and renovate it. Two thirds of existing homes are not yet adapted to the lives of seniors
The second challenge is to work on the new types of lifelong housing with personalized services and care, analyzing the scales and sizes of these homes, according to the environment. In each case there are optimal solutions and people who have lived in a certain type of place want to continue to live in it because it is familiar and propitious for them.
The third challenge is the one we have already mentioned, that involving models that offer independence and common services, but which serve as an intergenerational support. Without a doubt, it is time to innovate and anticipate what may come our way. We must test new solutions, monitor them and listen to the older people who live in them. These new models must be supported not only by a new design but also by new technologies that enhance care and quality of life.
Juan Fernández-Aceytuno, Chief Executive Officer of Sociedad de Tasación
Faced with the new demographic challenge, a scenario in which young people cannot afford to buy homes and pensions are not going to be enough for everyone; are we meeting this challenge adequately?
I don’t think so, because, to begin with, the housing law and the pension law do not communicate with one another. On the other hand, young people are not buying housing, they are seeing that they can delay this decision because it is possible that they will inherit their parents’ homes. In addition, the transition from youth to maturity has widened a lot, people are getting married later, having children later, living more in the moment, enjoying their youth more. They are in that period of euphoric youth. And they are living so much in the moment that this, plus a lack of financial education, prevents them from seeing that it would be much smarter to buy as soon as possible, especially as they may live for 100 years. That would give them financial support; with a house you can take out a loan to finance a small business, buy another house, set up a company, sell it, move to another place, and so on. I think that would be the smart thing to do: to try to do it as soon as possible. But then there are the salaries… With no salaries, most young people have no purchasing power and since they see that they can inherit their parents’ house, the typical conclusion is: I won’t buy, I’ll wait. But this is a mistake because it is likely that their parents will need the house they think they are going to inherit in order to pay for their independence.
It follows that financial education should be a primary objective.
yes, it should be essential and I know that the Bank of Spain and other organizations are working on this, for the sake of transparency, clarity, to avoid scams, and other things. Financial education helps you understand that real estate is part of your wealth. And there are savings products, life-insurance products, pension plans and housing, and you have to look at it all with a 360° view of your future.
What is happening in Spain? Well, we have 80% or 90% of our savings in housing and this is atypical in Europe, there are not many countries in the world where this happens. Housing is not a guaranteed asset, it has a lot of stability and provides security, but we cannot access its value all at once. Financial education allows you to understand the pros and cons of each product.
And in relation to other places, do you think we are doing our homework well considering that in Spain we have a population that is perhaps older than in other countries?
I think we have come late to the game, we lack vision, we need to look 30 years ahead. We need someone who is thinking about the long term, not only in terms of housing and pensions, but also energy, education, and so on. Organized civil society with a team of people working on the Spain of 30 years from now.
And for the Spain of 30 years from now and of the future, if you were to pinpoint some specific areas of action, what should we be working on?
Well, we have already mentioned education, both basic and financial education. Additionally, an analysis is necessary to relate the demographic curve with pensions and the value of housing, everything should be included within a single equation. We know how the demographic curve is going to evolve as it is quite precise, salary-related wealth can also be projected, and there are certain forecasts for the price of housing. We should project all this 30 or 40 years down the line and see what happens; see what kind of salaries we will have to have to pay the necessary pension, or what expenses a typical family will have in 40 years. I think we need to focus on planning for these issues in this country.