Supply and location drivers of Australian retirement communities
thesisposted on 28.03.2022, 10:49 by Lois Carol Towart
This thesis examines the supply and location drivers for retirement communities in the Central Coast, Newcastle and Hunter regions of New South Wales, Australia. Retirement communities represent a response by operators to housing older Australians. They are not geographically restricted like residential aged care and can be located in a range of property zones. Why older people move to retirement communities and the health and social benefits of living there have been well established. In contrast, there is limited research examining the reasons for operators (for-profit and not-for-profit) choosing to establish and operate these properties. The research for this thesis is based on a mixed-methods approach, commencing with the development of a detailed database and digital mapping. This approach facilitated an examination of the history of retirement communities in the study area. Semi-structured interviews with operators, financiers, planners and consultants who had been active in the industry since the 1980s (29 interviews, 40 interviewees) were conducted. Interviewees provided insights into how operators, policymakers and financiers have responded to Australia's ageing demographic, government policies of the day, economic and financial influences plus local geographies. This research revealed that there is no one single driver promoting operators to establish retirement communities; operators interact with multiple factors in making these decisions. These factors were examined through three analytical frameworks: policy, financialisation and materialities. Using three different frameworks provided a lens through which to examine these multiple factors and the interactions driving supply. What became apparent was a diverse set of operator strategies and practices in the supply of retirement communities. Diverse and shifting policies have influenced and continue to influence the industry. Early policies facilitated the entry of for-profit operators, who were responding to an ageing demographic and inward migration to the study area. Operators established properties and followed this by amalgamating properties into portfolios. These portfolios emerged as a new investment opportunity for institutional investors, further consolidating the industry. The financial turmoil following 2008 resulted in financial failures of some of these new investors. As the industry grew and the number of residents increased, tensions between residents and operators resulted in governments introducing legislation regulating operations and protecting residents' rights. Early predictions of increasing numbers of wealthy retirees demanding lifestyle housing choices have not proved accurate. Increasing numbers of retirees with insufficient housing equity encouraged operators to commence more affordable options, including rental retirement villages and manufactured home estates. The absence of policies focused on manufactured home estates has seen this form of housing evolve into retirement communities. The cost of development of these sites was generally lower which in turn improved financial returns for operators. They can also be located on problematic sites, such as flood affected, placing residents at risk. Beyond policy and financial drivers, the materialities of coal, water and medical and retail facilities emerged in the study area as important factors influencing supply. Voids from underground coal mining increased construction costs, which in turn influenced the financial feasibilities (financial returns) of retirement villages. Water, through flooding (and associated planning processes), concentrates retirement villages (as opposed to manufactured home estates) on lands that are not subject to flooding. Medical and retail facilities frame development locations as retirement villages are required to be proximate or have access to these facilities. The supply of retirement communities is not simply a response to a growing ageing demographic and increased demand. It is the product of the complex interaction of policy drivers, financial ambitions and processes, and the material structure of development locations. This thesis draws together and analyses the diverse set of factors and interactions driving the supply of retirement communities in the case study area. In doing so, it fills an important gap in contemporary understanding of housing for older people in Australia.