More than 400,000 Australian women aged 55 or older are at risk of homelessness. To address this alarming statistic, IRT’s Elena Beleska and Myra Basic have developed a unique community for senior single women and a new co-designed housing model that can be replicated around Australia.
Beleska and Basic were recently presented with the John Holland Award for Team Innovation at the 2022 NAWIC Awards for Excellence for Jasmine Grove – a retirement community which NAWIC’s award judges applauded as a “bespoke, age-friendly housing solution for women that balances privacy and connection”.
Researchers estimate that around 240,000 women aged 55 or older and another 165,000 women aged between 45 and 54 are at risk of homelessness.
“We knew there was a growing group of women with some savings who could not afford to buy a two-bedroom villa in one of our retirement villages,” says Basic, IRT’s innovation and insights manager. “These women faced a future of whittling away their savings on rent until they reached their seventies, then they’d need social housing.”
Relationships Australia notes that “living alone is a substantial risk factor for social isolation and loneliness” while the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has found women on low incomes are far more likely to be lonely than those women on high incomes.
Collaborative housing addresses affordability and social isolation at the same time, while supporting each resident to maintain their independence within a private and secure home.
Jasmine Grove, nestled within IRT Kanahooka, features eight, one-bedroom villas, each with a full-sized kitchen, dining area and lounge room, a laundry, outdoor storage space and parking. These villas encircle a community house that includes kitchen, lounge room, barbecue area and gardens.
A collaborative housing model needs a collaborative approach. To explore the possibilities, IRT invited 30-plus women from Sydney and Wollongong to a series of workshops in conjunction with The Australian Centre for Social Innovation.
“We started by asking workshop participants to draw, with pen and paper, their ideal village of women,” Basic explains. Several design iterations followed, in which the architectural team would present plans and “we’d literally get out the scissors and cut them up so we could get exactly what the women wanted.”
Beleska, Jasmine Grove’s project manager, emphasises the effort her team took to achieve a design that supported older women to age in place. “The kitchens – down to the pot drawers and position of the microwave – were designed for older women. We thought a lot about aging in place and dementia-friendly design.”
While the built form was essential, the workshop participants also designed a community charter, determining how spaces would be shared and collective decisions made.
“We've developed a model that is adaptive and transferable. It can work across the country and for different and diverse groups. We’ve been asked about a men's collaborative housing group, for example,” Basic adds.
Beleska says IRT’s team was proud to play their part exceeding the residents’ expectations. “It was so rewarding when the ladies moved in to see how impressed they were with their new homes – they are beautiful spaces that many of them never dreamed they’d be able to afford.”
The residents have settled into their new homes and IRT’s team is delighted with the sense of community that has been established in three short months.
“We were planning to create a social events calendar, but the residents have taken ownership of their community. They are enjoying wine and cheese nights, have planted the garden and are sharing the produce, holding monthly residents' meetings, dropping around to each other’s homes for a cup of tea and generally forming a nice neighbourhood,” Basic adds.
“Before Jasmine Grove, our residents’ options were very limited. We are literally changing lives through the built form. We will improve the quality of life of eight women – and we know this is a small number. But it’s a start. And it’s an innovative and impactful model that we hope the industry will embrace.”