The New Ecosystem of Seniors’ Housing

  • 27-04-2023
  • Stanton Dahl
  • BaptistaCare NSW & ACT's Yarra Rossa retirement village

    Retirement living and aged care operators are at risk of building new developments that will be obsolete in 10 or 15 years if they are not designing for the ageing customer and diversifying their product offering into new areas such as Build to Rent and disability housing.

    Designing retirement villages and aged care facilities that provide a true “ecosystem of housing” and can be adapted as your customer ages is no longer just a plan for the future – it’s what’s happening right now across the sector.

    Mahi Lau is a Principal at Stanton Dahl Architects and oversees its purpose-built housing portfolio including retirement living, residential aged care and which also includes disability accommodation.

    She says the firm has identified two key trends to emerge in the last 12 months among its clients:

    Mixed use sites – with retirement living, aged care and Build to Rent

    Mahi said they are seeing an increasing number of providers looking to build larger master planned developments with diverse housing typologies including retirement living, residential aged care, home care services, disability housing and Build to Rent on the same site.

    More operators are also factoring assisted living into their developments, where home care can be delivered on-site and residents stay living within their home or move to an apartment within the village.

    There is also an increasing focus on delivering care for all age groups who have experienced an accident or trauma.

    “We’re finding that seniors living is a specialist housing offering now, with a diverse product mix, an ecosystem of housing,” said Mahi.

    Adaptability in Design

    The other key trend is building greater adaptability and flexibility into the design, particularly in retirement living.

    “If you have larger sites, you can provide a diversity of options on the site, but not all providers have that luxury,” said Mahi.

    In response, some providers are looking at the capability of adapting the product, building upfront what may be required by the resident in 10, 15 or even 20 years.

    With the Baby Boomer generation looking to downsize – but not downgrade – their accommodation, Mahi says that flexible design for ageing in place needs to be considered when building a new village.

    “A two-bedroom plus study unit has become the minimum benchmark for a site to sell well, but a few years down the line, the resident may not need as much space when they are ageing.”

    “So having that flexibility to redesign that two- or three bedroom unit into two separate units with a bedroom, some seating, storage space and an ensuite bathroom is possible.”

    Are all operators prepared for this changing market, however?

    The answer is no.

    While some larger providers are looking at their product offerings, some smaller operators are asking for a product that may not fit with their future customers’ needs.

    “We need to educate the providers about the risks in building obsolete products,” said Mahi.

    “If you have a product that doesn’t serve the residents’ needs, you will struggle to reach full occupancy.”

    Doesn’t ‘futureproofing’ cost more?

    ‘Futureproofing’ does come with a higher price tag, agreed Mahi, but the pay-off is higher occupancy on completion and also over the lifespan of the product.

    Your refurbishment costs may also be lower – if your architect puts on their thinking cap.

    “Even if you have built in some future design, there will be some form of refurbishment,” she said.“So it’s about how you try and minimise wastage and time offline as you refurbish the product.”

    Sector Challenges

    With a number of builders going into administration in recent months, and certifiers taking their time to approve new developments after highly publicised cases of defective buildings, increasing material and upfront costs continue to be the key challenge for operators looking at new projects or refurbishments.

    Providers can mitigate some of these costs however by planning ahead in partnership with their architect and builder.

    “We need to spend more time upfront in the design and documentation phase,” underlined Mahi.“The longer you spend upfront, the fewer surprises further down the road. So spend more time with your project team, do more buildability reviews, understand what you want to do, and get as much out of the consultants involved upfront as possible, including your architect and builder.”

    “The vision is not something that is just left on the boardroom table while the builder on site is not aware of what is happening.”

    The lack of cohesion between retirement village and residential care planning codes also continues to be problematic for operators looking to develop adaptable designs.

    With villages falling under the States and aged care a Federal responsibility, there is no planning or building code that allows for a combined product that enables a clear ageing in place solution, said Mahi.

    “There is no clear industry directive, yet this type of product is already being designed,” she stated.

    “Certainly, there is a need for some advocacy from the peak bodies]on this issue to ensure that operators can deliver a product that encompasses the different codes.”


    So in an environment of higher costs and regulatory uncertainty, how can operators build in innovation – while planning for their future customers?

    With technology now the norm rather than the exception, more customisation to suit the individual’s needs is required upfront, said Mahi.

    “Automation is becoming more common and is much easier if you include it upfront – retrofitting technology is what burns a hole in your pocket.”

    Forward-thinking operators are also looking more closely at the environmental, social and governance (ESG) drivers of their developments.

    “We are implementing tools to measure the impact our built spaces have with the view to quantify the social and environmental impact our work has,” said Mahi.

    This will assist the firm to learn from previous and current projects – and help providers to improve their product offering into the future.

    “Our clients are not just there to make a quick buck,” stressed Mahi.

    “They are there to address a significant societal need so we want to make sure that whatever we design helps achieve a positive social  and environmental impact.”

    “Profitability is important, but ESG is also important and it’s becoming the way forward for everyone now.”


    Above article by Lauren Broomham and published on The Weekly SOURCE