Editorial: Where are our old people going?

It’s a sad fact that many Ōtaki residents have ‘disappeared’ to retirement villages in Levin, Waikanae and beyond. Often their departing reasons are tinged with regret: ‘we needed to be somewhere where we could be looked after as our health deteriorated’, or reasons that spoke of security in old age, provision for a partner ‘when I’m dead’ were common reasons.

Death is non-negotiable, but whereas our life was once defined as ‘three score years and ten’ many of us are living into our eighties and beyond. As we get older, the future looms as an important consideration.

We looked in horror as the huge ‘retirement village’ on the outskirts of Waikanae grew and grew. Someone dubbed it Colditz, but that didn’t diminish its appeal to some who thought they needed sheltered accommodation and a seamless transition to senescence.

An astute observer noted that retirement come in many forms, from ‘rest homes’, to not-for profit charitable trusts to profit-oriented retirement villages that offer communal facilities and eventual medical care when you are about to lose your faculties. 

In these villages, you buy the right to occupy, for upwards of $400,000. Then when you die after the average occupancy of 7 years, your estate receives around $300,000. Best of all, the village owner has the perpetual right to be the only seller, and in a seller’s market they call the shots.

To keep the model supportable by the Crown, the village owner will show that those in need of rest home care, unable to live independently will pay a barely break-even price of $900/week, which the Crown subsidises.

Does Ōtaki really want a huge retirement village?  The Ōtaki Mail thinks not. What Ōtaki needs is thoughtful social & medical care that encourages the elderly to stay here amongst their friends, but with access to care & support. 

There are still areas of land in the town that could support a sheltered village, ideally run by a benevolent trust, with attached facilities for those needing an increasing level of care. 

This is not a plea for a profit-motivated developer to come and build another monster Retirement Village. It’s a suggestion that if the Ōaki community wants to preserve the town’s special identity, we should be planning creatively and thoughtfully for the future of our elderly.