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New Zealand's Ageing Population Represents A New Housing Crisis

November 1, 2016

New Zealand is home to a large ageing population. Experts estimate that by the year 2030, 20% of our population will be older than 65. As this large segment of our population grows older, their housing needs will change dramatically. The vast majority of homes in New Zealand are not suitable for people with mobility challenges – this is true for the young and old alike. It’s a real concern, with recent reports demonstrating that if changes aren’t made soon, we will soon have a different kind of housing crisis on our hands. 

Housing challenges

Most homebuyers are relatively young and healthy when they purchase their first or second home. As a result, they are unlikely to think about how well the home will suit their needs as they grow older. Perhaps they assume they’ll move house or live in a retirement community in their later years. When those later years do eventually roll around, many people are reluctant to leave the place they have called home for so long .


If they want to remain in their home, they will likely need to address one or more of these challenges:


  • No access to different levels of them home
  • Doorways that are too narrow to accommodate wheelchairs or scooters
  • Inaccessible bathrooms and toilets
  • Poor lighting (indoors and outdoors)
  • Slippery surfaces
  • Home that are too large to heat efficiently and cost-effectively
  • Inconvenient access to electric outlets and challenging handles, levers, etc.


The problem in numbers

LifemarkTM, a charity established by the CCS Disability Action, is an organisation that provides independent quality assurance and specific standards for making home accessible to everyone. Geoff Penrose, their general manager, has recently reported some concerning statistics:


  • At least 50% of those over the age of 65 have some form of disability that requires special accommodation in the home.
  • In the next 10 years alone, around 800,000 Kiwis will need to live in care facilities or homes that are specifically designed to support their needs.
  • Last year, Lifemark certified 644 homes throughout New Zealand. With over 27,132 consented in the past year, this means that only 3 per cent of new homes were certified by Lifemark.
  • Estimates are even worse for this year. Mr Penrose suspects that only 2% of new homes will be designed to address the needs of those with mobility or disability issues.


The numbers are staggering. According to Radio NZ, New Zealand will need to build at least 8100 aged-friendly homes per year for the next 10 years in order to accommodate the growing demand for this type of housing.

Change is on the way

While the numbers are concerning, Lifemark is working with local communities and officials to encourage and support the creation of more homes that will be accessible to people of all ages. Working in partnership with designers and builders, Lifemark is demonstrating how the principles of Universal Design can be leveraged to ensure a home makes the best use of space. Any new home or retirement village can be Lifemark rated – it just needs to be considered from the beginning.


 To encourage long-term planning that will help accommodate the ageing population, some local councils are creating initiatives to incentivise people to gain Lifemark certification. The Thames-Coromandel District Council is the first council to offer easier planning regulations and waive certain fees to individuals who have their build Lifemark certified. We hope to see other regions following suit.

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Filed under Building codes and standards \ Quality of Life

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