With so many important and headline-grabbing challenges such as crime, migration and climate change facing cities, it is often easy to forget that, in many places, the ageing profile of city-dwellers is a challenge that is as urgent and deserving of immediate action as any of the above. Aedes-Actiz KCWZ’s Yvonne Witter is on board to explain why adapting to this very real and current phenomenon is important, and why we should attend ‘Golden Years, ageing in the city’, that her platform organizes with housing corporation Rochdale on Tuesday 20 June.
Article by Crispin Pownall, ISHF team
What is your background and how are you related to the well-being of older people?
I was born in Amsterdam and I was raised in a village close to Amsterdam. I studied sociology at the University of Amsterdam (UVA) and social gerontology at the Free University of Amsterdam (VU). I have been working for 9 years at the national senior citizens organization and I work for 12 years at the Knowledge Centre for Housing and Care.
Beside my work I also do some volunteering work for the European Network of Intercultural Elderly Care (ENIEC) and Art Age foundation. I absolutely love it! I am passionate about giving lectures on and writing about ageing.
What is the Knowledge Centre for Housing and Care? Why should people know about your platform?
Part of the Aedes association of housing corporations and the ActiZ organisation of care providers, the Aedes-Actiz Kenniscentrum Wonen-Zorg is the expertise centre for those wishing to know more about housing, care and welfare. We support care organisations and housing corporations in the development of new concepts combining housing and care. This is relevant to various target groups including senior citizens, people with a mental of physical disability and the homeless. We have a lot of good examples of housing projects and we like to show them to everyone who is interested in the field of housing and care!
What motivates you to work at a knowledge platform like Aedes-Actiz?
Well, as the amount of older people increases, so does the amount of vulnerable people. In the Netherlands they need to live as long as possible in their own houses. That is only possible if there are enough suitable houses, enough services that are situated in the neighbourhood like the general practitioner, public transport, shops, places to meet, possibilities to participate. That is a shared responsibility of different stakeholders, like the municipality, housing corporations, care and welfare organisations and consumer and volunteer organisations.
As a knowledge center, we bring these different stakeholders together and give them information and ideas. We give a lot of presentations and we organize field visits to innovative projects to inspire people. That is absolutely an interesting and wonderful job! I really like contributing to an age friendly society where there is place for everyone: young, old, healthy and vulnerable.
You are organizing the events ‘Golden Years, ageing in the city’, with speeches by Jan Latten and Sven van Oosten. What exactly you will address at the event?
At this moment 129,000 people live in a nursing home or residential home. This means that 6 out of 7 people who are 80 years or older live independently at home- of course sometimes with domestic care and technological assistance. In the Netherlands, family (spouse, children) and professionals and volunteers also play an important role to support the elderly.
Professor Jan Latten will talk about demographic changes, like the increasing amount of people who live alone. That means that there is a need of a greater number of small houses. Sven van Oosten will also talk about inclusive societies.
Ageing is a very big topic in the Netherlands and throughout the rest of Europe. Do you feel that governments and municipalities pay enough attention to the effects of ageing and the needs of ageing inhabitants?
Most important is that housing associations, municipalities, and care and welfare organisations try to develop a variety of services in the field of housing, care and welfare. And very important: this must be done in cooperation with the older inhabitants themselves. People should have an important and great say in the development of kinds of services, housing projects and more.
What should be improved in cities to make the lives of the elderly better?
I am personally very worried about the increasing loneliness of some people, both younger and older, within cities and outside. I think it is extremely important that people can meet each other. That people can participate and do the things that make them happy. The environment should be accessible, safe, healthy and friendly for people with and without disabilities. That is why I am very fond of projects like ‘key ring’ , a supported living network to help people feel safe and supported in their own homes. And why I am very enthusiastic about the ‘age friendly city’ movement.
What are some concrete examples of how housing associations have improved circumstances of the elderly?
Housing associations do a lot to improve the situation of older tenants. They provide information, they support initiatives from the elderly themselves (like co-housing projects), they develop adapted houses, life-cycle homes and adapt houses. For example, additional toilets can be installed on the same floor as the bedroom, or home automation can be installed.
The housing association Habion is busy transforming residential homes to modern senior homes. They do this together with older residents and the neighborhood. That is really great! Another association, Talis, developed a multiple generation cohousing project. And Bergopwaarts, yet another association, divided some single-family homes into two different dwellings: one for a student or refugee and the other for the elderly.
Why should all readers attend your event?
Haha, we only have space for 80 participants so regrettably not all readers may be able to attend. But if you are interested in the topic of ageing and if you like hearing inspiring lectures and meeting creative and nice people, please come. I am always happy meeting people who also are crazy about older people!
What are you expecting at the International Social Housing Festival?
I expect a lot of sharing of ideas, experiences and knowledge. I also expect a lot of… fun! I am looking forward to meeting a lot of nice people from different countries and hope that everyone will return home with new ideas and energy. And I do hope that we all realize that we should be very proud of social housing!
More information about ‘Golden Years, ageing in the city‘, Tuesday 20 June, Rochdale office, Bos en Lommerplein 303, Amsterdam
Register here (please note that the event is in Dutch)