One of the small but important challenges we face as a Housing Authority is actually explaining to people, and to our elderly particularly, what we mean by the sheltered housing we are currently developing for older people. Sheltered housing exists in a myriad of forms, particularly in the UK, the US, and Australia, so it is important to be clear about what the Housing Authority is offering older people and why.

Our sheltered housing offers a small cluster of 8-16 flats that are specifically designed for and allocated to older people. It isn't a mini-old people's home. It is not a day centre (although we do hope in future projects to offer residents a communal living room if they wish to use one). It's quite simply well designed, easy to maintain self-contained housing (and not a bed sit in a home!) with one's own separate bedroom, living room, kitchen and usually a shower room, as the bathroom is often the first room where older people start to fail in terms of being able to live independently.

The first project in Capuchin Street, Floriana, is now fully occupied and it is a real pleasure to see how all the residents really made each flat their home. While we were designing the project we did wonder whether we should supply furniture too, conscious of the fact that they may live in large rooms where their furniture may not have fitted in. But each pensioner or pair of pensioners (happily there are couples too!) has apparently happily adapted to the new space standards in their new home, and each flatlet is testimony to how proud we Maltese are of our homes and how everyone has one's own concept of what makes a home "homely".

The second project now under way is in Merchants Street, Valletta, opposite the church of St Dominic and we hope there too will be a communal living room where the residents can invite others to drop in if they so want, an initiative suggested by the energetic and positive mayor of Valletta which we were happy to take up, conscious of the fact that loneliness is a big issue in old age and a key reason why people's physical well-being can start to deteriorate.

As for future projects, the Housing Authority board has decided to include one entrance for flats for older people in all its larger projects.

Another project in Floriana, near the main police headquarters, is also to include one- and two-bed flats for older people as, sometimes, older people have an older relative living with them.

These flatlets, however, cannot be inherited or sold as one can do with other government housing. They remain the property of the Housing Authority and can only be allocated to older people and, sometimes, "younger" older people with a disability.

In this project we are combining shared ownership flats for sale and an entrance specifically for older people with subsidised rent. This project should be completed by the end of 2007.

Currently we are looking at a range of sites where we are developing housing and adapting plans to include these flats for older people. Almost every area of Malta has a high proportion of older people living in it. We know from our work that it is older people who are most over-represented in our worst housing. When we talk of housing needs in this country we only consider the plight of engaged couples or young singles for whom prices are admittedly steep. But we don't as yet give enough time, consideration and resources to ensuring that pensioners are adequately housed in small, safe and easy to manage housing.

Hopefully, this kind of housing will soon not only be provided by the Housing Authority but will also be included by developers in projects for sale because there is clearly a demand for easy to manage housing for older people, as more and more live longer but don't want the bother and expense of maintaining our traditionally very large homes

Ms Micallef is chairman of the Housing Authority.

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