In addition to winning the Health & Wellbeing Award for the Cork Sanctuary Runners initiative at the 16th Chambers Ireland Excellence in Local Government Awards, Cork City Council also won the Local Authority Innovation Award for its Arus Mhuire Rightsizing Project, which facilitates downsizing from larger homes to free up social and private housing.
Senior citizens can always move from a large home to a smaller one, or from an expensive area to a cheaper one, and cash the difference. So, if one sees a chance to move to a smaller property that meets their needs as well as their aspirations, it’s ‘rightsizing’. ‘Rightsizing’ is a senior citizen’s active, positive choice to move home as a means of improving their quality of life. In a survey in RetireEasy, one-third of respondents listed rightsizing as one of their planned future options in order to release an average of 33% of its value: a sizeable amount.
At this point, it is important to reframe the entire argument and take out the potentially negative implications of the word “downsizing”. It sounds like a retrograde step. But if the move being contemplated is to take us into accommodation which simply better suits our needs, now and into the future, “rightsizing” sounds far more appropriate.
Cork City Council Housing Directorate took the initiative on this trend with the Arus Mhuire project. The Arus Mhuire initiative is a unique 30-unit housing scheme addressing the issue of ‘empty-nesters’. It provides accommodation for older people in their community while simultaneously releasing surplus larger housing to younger families.
Demographic change and limited housing supply are causing a gap in provision of housing for senior citizens. Too few seniors are downsizing, meaning younger families are missing out on homes with more bedrooms. The Council wanted to offer the opportunity to senior citizens who would like to ‘rightsize’ from their existing house to a property with fewer bedrooms. The initiative was to provide age-friendly homes, to facilitate independence and choice and provide older people with the opportunity to live in ‘right size’ housing appropriate to their needs, while at the same time facilitating the effective use of existing housing assets by making use of vacated homes and increase housing provision.
The objective on one hand is for senior citizens and those living alone to live in a housing scheme that is specifically designed to provide independence and a sense of security and confidence. On the other hand, it makes larger homes available for younger families to achieve critical housing supply. It wanted to offer advantages and opportunities to its tenants and also private householders to right-size from their current abode to a well-located facility designed with their future needs in mind.
To bring this idea to fruition within an 18-month time frame and service both private and social housing householders required innovation in terms of strategic location, design for lifetime living, proximity to care facilities, services and public transport, complex procurement, planning and project delivery, stakeholder engagement with the community and the target sectors concerned, the elderly and younger families seeking housing. Therefore, it managed this initiative via its Housing Capital team using its unique EU Competitive Dialogue procurement process.
A suitable site was identified, and a design-build solution developed. Planning consent obtained, the scheme was professionally managed by competent and experienced contractors and design teams and supervised by a multidisciplinary Housing Capital team; the scheme was fully funded by the Department of Housing Planning and Local Government.
The accommodation is designed with regard to Lifetime Homes standards to accommodate residents and visitors with varying levels of mobility, including those in wheelchairs, recognising that the needs of each individual will also vary over time. One and two-bedroom dual-aspect houses and apartments are provided, allowing for single or double occupancy, and in the case of the two-bedroom units, a room for guests to stay in, extra storage or a study space as required. All accommodation is at dwelling entrance level, and each unit has a private outdoor space, whether small back garden or balcony. A covered seating area is provided adjacent dwelling entrances as an alternative outdoor space to the private gardens or the communal courtyard. Car parking is located close to the site entrance and within the central courtyard which is at the heart of the scheme. This courtyard is secure, sunny and animated, and has a unique character, creating a sense of place for residents and visitors alike, whilst providing operational benefit in terms of passive surveillance. The development enjoys quality public transport, pedestrian, cycling and private car links, and is within easy walking distance of a range of amenities and services, including shops, healthcare facilities and a popular local amenity walk.
The Arus Mhuire development is unique and original, an example for the future filling the gap identified. All dwellings have BER ratings of at least A3, are well-insulated, have quality double-glazed Alu clad windows and doors, making living costs for residents low whilst comfort levels are high.
The scheme is managed by Túath Housing on behalf of Cork City Council. Tuath’s effective and efficient housing management encourages tenant participation, and they work closely with the City Council. Tenant involvement has been a key part of establishing and maintaining a settled, inclusive and viable community. Tenants are encouraged to share their experiences and comment on the service. A strong community atmosphere is evident in Arus Mhuire.
There has been a very positive and sustained public and media reaction to the project in terms of design and function resulting in a strong demand for more similar schemes across the City. The project has been the proud recipient of awards at the Chambers Ireland Excellence in Local Government Awards 2019 in the Local Authority Innovation Category, and the ICSH Community Housing Awards 2019 under the “Housing for Older People, Large Project” Category. The Scheme was also shortlisted in the CIH Awards Innovation Category in 2020.
The Council has learned from this exercise and has included a range of similar schemes in its future plans, using the Arus Mhuire model as an example of the success of Rightsizing projects, which provide a positive choice to the elderly to move as a means of improving their quality of life. In the end, the facility speaks for itself and the impact is a triple win for the Council, the elderly and the younger families, and serves as a model for the future.