We identified six main themes of housing accessibility policies from the content of the interviews and the policy documents: Organizational policies, Economic policies, Research and development policies, Preventive policies, Housing construction and design policies, and Legal policies. For each theme, we identified one or several categories, see Fig. 1.
(Fig. 1 in here)
Organizational policies The theme of Organizational policies has one category focusing on Dialogue and collaboration with different actors. The participants described that the municipalities strive to be in dialogue with various actors such as pensioners' associations, construction companies, carpenters, etc., and private and municipal housing companies when they develop their policies.
"But we try to have a good dialogue [when planning new housing developments]. Now I know that we are only talking about settlements in a development district, but it is still pretty connected anyway, how the accessibility looks on the surrounding streets and other things as well. So in these matters we also have a good dialogue, I think, with our accessibility council which is a municipal council, or an interest organization, or whatever you want to call it. ”
Some of the participants emphasized, that the municipality even collaborates with different actors to develop new ideas and solutions on how housing accessibility can be improved. Dialogue lays the groundwork for collaboration and goes one step further since it involves cooperative projects and a joint effort together with various actors.
Economic policies Economic policies had a rich content and we identified four categories within this theme. Financial incentives for different housing provision actors, such as incentives to property owners and housing companies to implement housing adaptations, were considered an important tool to improve housing accessibility. Moreover, it was recognized that public expenditures through home services, for instance, can be decreased if seniors with reduced functional capacity are able to remain living in well-adapted homes that fit their needs, instead of moving to special housing. Furthermore, the participants described Financial incentives for individuals to stimulate relocation as something that will grow in importance in the future. The participants also expressed concern, that seniors with functional limitations and lower incomes are more likely to stay in their often inaccessible homes. Financial incentives for those individuals could decrease those “lock-in effects”.
"And then there are people, I mean older people, who perhaps could actually move to an apartment and leave their house - which is built in the 50s, 60s - but the economic conditions are generally not good for a person living in [this municipality]. So they live [economically] better in their old house rather than moving to something that is perhaps a little more accessible and actually better. And that means that we get very poor mobility in the housing market."
The category Subsidies targeting the current housing stock captures discussions of the dilemma that although renovations and adaptations of the housing stock would improve housing accessibility, it would also result in higher rents. Especially, it was argued, seniors with lower incomes would have difficulties paying such rents, and property owners and housing companies are therefore hesitant to renovate and improve their accommodations. Currently, there is no financial incentive in form of subsidies to stimulate the renovation and adaptation of the existing housing stock, which in general is less accessible compared to newly built housing and thus more in need of such measures.
The participants often returned to the topic that housing accessibility issues are very complex and cannot be considered in isolation. In relation to this, Interventions focusing on social division were frequently mentioned. For instance, measures taking loneliness among seniors into account while building new accessible homes, or social measures such as dealing with homelessness among seniors with substance abuse or poor mental health, by providing them paid accommodation where accessibility issues deserve more consideration than is the case today.
Research and development policies This theme mainly covers discussions related to Measures focusing on technology. The participants told about more general ideas of welfare technology and smart homes, but also concrete examples. For instance, one participant described the current usage of special assistive technology devices for home assistance personnel, which may contribute to compensate for some problems in the physical environment.
Additionally, one participant brought up the Development of new design solutions as a suggestion for future policies.
"Yes, it seems if there could come some new types of lifts that one may not know of or so, that there would be some smart solution to it. //……….//. But there is a company that has a product that is like a staircase, you could say. It looks like a regular staircase. And then you can adapt it so that the stairs, yes, become like a lift, that kind of platform. So it is aesthetically pleasing, but I think it is more perhaps intended for public spaces. I think it's pretty expensive too. But it is possible that there may be some new ideas like that."
Preventive policies Accessibility inventories as a basis for future measures were identified by many participants as an essential policy to address housing accessibility issues. Some municipalities had already initialized such inventories while others were involved in discussions on how to go about them in methodological and practical terms. Accessibility inventories were acknowledged as important information to support future measures and initiatives to improve housing accessibility. Most of the actual inventories brought into the discussion, however, were conducted through private or municipal housing companies. Some participants said that even if they saw the benefits of such inventories, they had economic challenges to implement them.
"In that case, we should… if we were planning to make such an accessibility inventory, then it will still be something where we have to go beyond the regular budget ourselves."
There were also discussions concerning the benefits of Preventive measures that ensure accessibility is addressed before the need arises. One participant specifically mentioned current policies to remove barriers in the homes and make them more accessible in order to prevent falls and injuries in the home environment. To promote good health and sustainable use of economic resources, one municipality’s housing supply plan specifically focused on preventive policies such as social activities, housing counseling, and workshops targeting housing for senior citizens.
Mostly in terms of policies for the future, we identified the additional category Strategies targeting relocation. Within the individual interviews as well as in the housing supply plans, there were several examples of incentives of preventive character to stimulate relocation, such as relocation chains, relocation assistance, or information about relocation.
Housing construction and design policies This theme captures one of the principal current policies in all municipalities to address housing accessibility issues, that is through needs-based, publicly funded Individual housing adaptations. The most common housing adaptations mentioned in the discussions were removing thresholds, installing and adaptation of showers instead of bathtubs, stair lifts, and stove guards. In general, this policy was positively described. However, the division of responsibility between the municipalities and the regional health care for special housing adaptations was occasionally found to be challenging.
"I can say, what has happened most about the housing adaptation issue, is that there has been a long dispute between [the municipality] and [the region] about who is responsible for wheelchair garages. Is it a housing adaptation issue or is it the region that is responsible for it, based on the fact that they prescribe the aid? There have been many years of trouble in between."
In both housing supply plans and interviews Refurbishment, renovations and maintenance were described as significant tools to improve housing accessibility as well as social sustainability and equal living environments. The housing supply plans also showed the ambition to meet the needs and wishes of seniors through the Supply of different housing forms in the future, such as rental apartments, co-operative apartments, and one-family homes. Furthermore, in response to increasing social segregation and the complexity of the housing market, we found socially mixed housing with innovative or different housing forms to be promoted. It was also acknowledged that not all older adults can age in place. Some need assistance as soon as functional limitations arise. The municipalities were therefore focusing on building additional intermediate forms of housing such as senior housing and sheltered housing.
Legal policies This theme was mostly discussed in terms of future policies and concerned to Sharpen housing and building legislation. There were for instance suggestions by participants to address the challenges created by the vague formulation of the current law, particularly by the mix of accessibility and usability concepts.
"Even if it [the law] is clear, it becomes unclear precisely in the concept of “accessible and usable”, and it is really like a fluffy cloud to be “accessible and usable”. And the accessibility is easier for them [the building permit officers] to see. Just like yes, there are open areas and there is enough space, there are surfaces to move on, and so on. But the usability is a bit on another level, or how to say. That it is not so easy to get a grip on, I think."