Various Government representatives, organisations and businesses from both the charity sector and the property industry met at an event held by Co-Ownership to discuss the need for more affordable, suitable housing as Northern Ireland’s population becomes older. NISRA reports that by mid-2045 one in four people will be over the age of 65, up from the current frequency of one in six.
Representatives discussed the introduction of Co-Own for Over 55s – an affordable housing product recently launched by Co-Ownership and funded by Department for Communities. The product has been purposefully designed in response to Northern Ireland’s changing age structure and supports those over the age of 55 to move to a home that better suits their needs as they get older.
Mark Graham, Chief Executive of Co-Ownership, said: “It’s very common for people to feel that their current home no longer suits their needs. For instance, a two-storey property may pose issues for someone who has developed mobility issues. Some people may feel their home requires too much maintenance or is too expensive to run, whilst others may feel they would have a better quality of life if they were closer to family, a community or better transport links.
“When a person continues to live in an unsuitable home it can have a negative impact on their wellbeing, so we are proud to have been proactive in finding a solution and to work alongside the Department for Communities to introduce Co-Own for Over 55s.”
The Commissioner for Older People, Eddie Lynch spoke at the meeting about the importance of safeguarding and promoting the interests of our aging population.
Eddie said: “We are living in an ageing population, an age of great demographic change. This new product is a good news story given the many positive contributions older people make to our society. However, this population needs and demands housing options. Co-ownership is one important option which can contribute to improved housing for older people and is to be welcomed as part of the answer to our society’s housing needs.”
Funded by the Department for Communities, the new product helps to bridge the gap between the value of where someone is currently living and their desired new home. Customers use the equity from the sale of their current home, or savings, to fund their share of their new home. They pay a small rent on the share that Co-Ownership owns and can choose a new build or existing property anywhere in Northern Ireland up to a maximum value of £190,000.
Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey said: “My Department is delighted to fund Co-Own for Over 55s. People are living longer than ever before, and it’s important we can enable our ageing population to find good quality, affordable accommodation suitable to their needs, enabling them to live as independently as possible, for as long as possible.”
Meanwhile, Linda Robinson, Chief Executive of Age NI highlighted that the charity is actively planning for the needs of Northern Ireland’s rapidly growing older population.
Linda said: “We know from talking to older people that one of their strongest aspirations is to live independently and comfortably in their own home for as long as possible. This Co-Ownership product offers people a new housing option to consider as they plan for later life and make decisions about living in a home that is fit for purpose and meets their changing needs.
“Northern Ireland has a rapidly growing older population and innovative solutions that offer affordable and accessible housing for older people are a vital part of our planning for Northern Ireland’s ageing population.”
Co-Own for Over 55s first launched in June. Of the first successful applicants are Denis Wilson and his wife, and they have just completed a move from a five-bedroom property to an apartment.
Denis said: “My wife and I were living in a five-bedroom property and had an interest-only mortgage. We started to feel a bit concerned with the cost of living rising. I knew when we heard about the Co-Own for Over 55s product from a friend it was the change we needed. I reckon it will reduce our utility bills by about 75 per cent. Being in the new property feels fantastic already, despite only being here for a week and having plenty of unpacking yet to do.”
Charles O’Neill, Director of Product Development at Co-Ownership highlighted the need for change in the local property market.
Charles explained: “Where we live is intrinsically linked to our physical and mental wellbeing, and everyone’s wellbeing is important regardless of age. But we are also acutely aware of the many obstacles facing first time buyers such as a shortage in supply. Crucially each time an Over 55s customer chooses to move it frees up a property for a first-time buyer or young family.
“We need a new approach when it comes to our housing stock so that the property market works more efficiently for everyone at all stages of life. New housing developments could for example incorporate various dwellings from two-storey detached and semi-detached, to bungalows and apartments.”