Co-living for older people – reduced loneliness and lower living costs

A new report from the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research, funded by the Nationwide Foundation, has revealed a range of benefits for older people choosing to live with others, as well as identifying barriers to be overcome if co-living is to grow at scale throughout the UK.

For this research, the term co-living refers to three different scenarios: house sharing, where an older person who wishes to stay in their own home welcomes a tenant or ‘house-sharer’, and in exchange for reduced rent, the house-sharer assists them with light daily tasks; cohousing, where communal space is shared and an ‘intentional community’ is created; and intergenerational living, where homes are shared by a group of older people and a group of younger people.

The report consisted of interviews with stakeholders and residents and found considerable positives for older people when co-living. These included:
• Feeling less lonely
• Receiving help with daily tasks
• A feeling that they could stay in their own home for longer.

Alongside these benefits, the report attempted to understand why co-living models haven’t grown as quickly in the UK as they have in Europe. Among barriers identified were patchy access to land and finance, as well as planning, tax and benefits systems set up in a way which act as a disincentive to living with others in older age.

One interviewee, employed by Homeshares, an organisation which matches older home-owners and would-be house-sharers, said: “I can count the negative sides on my fingers, whereas the positive benefits and positive sides are endless.”

An older resident, living in a sheltered-housing development with a mix of PhD students and residents over the age of 55, remarked on an occasion where co-living really made a difference: “There was this day when the floor was very slippery because it had been raining, and there are steps here. I’m not very good on my feet, and he was there and he held my hand waiting for me to come along, and I thought that was lovely.”

The authors also compiled a list of policy recommendations, which, if implemented, could allow this housing model to grow. These include:
• Increased funding for co-housing groups
• Re-thinking how land is seen and valued
• Changes to the planning system to allow co-living groups more time to purchase sites

Jonathan Lewis, the Nationwide Foundation’s Programme Manager for Nurturing Ideas to Change the Housing System, said: “The work carried out by the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research helps to build an understanding of how older people might benefit from co-living. It also considers whether it’s a sensible option for those who are more vulnerable and in need of homes that are both decent and affordable. With an ageing population, it’s becoming clearer that more forward-thinking options like co-living can and should play a role in improving the housing system over the next decade.”

Alongside this research, the centre produced a guide to co-living , which promotes co-living and provides further information for interested parties.