After the disappointment of what was supposed to be the debut of a retirement resort community at Hillford turning out to be more like an ordinary condominium launch on Jan 17, policymakers have an opportunity to do better.
Admittedly, neither the developer nor the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) might call Hillford a failure. Yet, a look at what happened shows how the project strayed from its intended purpose.
When the URA released the tender for the property, it offered benefits including a shorter leasehold, higher land coverage, extra gross floor area and space for supporting services if it became retirement housing.
However, the URA also said it had provided flexibility for developers or operators to decide on the criteria used to screen those buying or renting the retirement housing units. There was nothing to guarantee that the developer actually turned the property into a proper retirement community in return for the benefits.
The developer then went ahead and opened up sales to almost anyone and probably sees it as a tremendous success, since all the units sold out immediately and there is little obligation to provide ongoing support for a retirement community.
The net result is that the Hillford is far from a successful model for new retirement communities in Singapore. There is still a great opportunity, however, to leverage lessons from what happened to create the successful retirement communities that are needed for an ageing population here.
The first step is to analyse the sale and take stock of what went wrong.
As pundits galore have mentioned, buyers were from all age groups rather than only seniors; flats do not include elderly-friendly amenities such as grab bars or wheelchair-friendly access; there is no certainty that the proposed services for the elderly will be put in place; and retiree buyers have few extra protections.
BEST PRACTICES ELSEWHERE
The second step is to learn from successful retirement community projects elsewhere.
Singapore is, of course, set up somewhat differently from other cities — such as the fact that land released by the Government can come with both regulatory as well as statutory requirements. Still, we could pick up tips from practices elsewhere.
For example, regulations in New Zealand, Canada and some other countries help ensure retirement communities are for senior citizens and provide protections for seniors after they buy a unit. The Retirement Villages Act in New Zealand and the companion Code of Practice, for example, provide a multitude of protections.
Resources from the World Health Organisation, which has a long-standing Checklist for Age-friendly Cities, can help in setting minimum standards.
Offering state-of-the-art ideas, the Lenbrook “continuing care retirement community” in Atlanta in the United States has become a magnet for foreign delegations, who come to see how it offers resort-style amenities, activities for residents and a full spectrum of healthcare services.
Sun City in Japan provides services such as shuttle buses and train stations to give residents independence, as well as a spectrum of amenities and organised activities. The Assisted Living Federation of America, advocates for operators of retirement communities, also showcases innovative practices such as mobile technology.
Putting regulatory requirements together with these best practices to tailor a set of requirements for retirement communities in Singapore — and making sure developers follow through — would benefit the growing senior population here.
RIDE THE MOMENTUM
The third step is to build upon all the lessons, as well as on the buzz, the Hillford has generated.
Other developers that saw the Hillford sell out fast can now understand the benefits of creating retirement communities — and creating them better. To capitalise on the momentum, the URA should act within months to release other properties for similar purposes, but with more specific requirements about who can own the units, the facilities they should have and how they will be managed in the longer term.
As our population ages, we need to provide appropriate living facilities to help senior Singaporeans and make sure they receive what they sign up for. Rather than simply providing broad outlines and allowing private companies to work within or around them, let us put in place policies that ensure retirement communities are truly built and maintained for the benefit of seniors.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Richard Hartung is a consultant who has lived in Singapore since 1992.
So spend one third of the essay pointing out that Hillford is just like an ordinary condominium with no real support of a retirement community, then conclude that other developers can see the success of the Hillford? As a retirement community project?