Building Bridges

German-American Expert Dialogue on Demographic Change, Housing and Care

At the invitation of the German Marshall Fund representatives from the German Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services  and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently attended an online expert dialogue meeting held on March 2. The "Bridging Health, Housing and Generations" event served as a platform to showcase demonstration programmes, exchange experiences and learn from each another.

In his presentation, Prof. Dr. Matthias von Schwanenflügel, Director-General for Demographic Change, Senior Citizens and Social Welfare at the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth stressed the importance of communal and multi-generational housing in promoting self-determined living in old age and in fostering social participation, encounter and togetherness. Showcasing BMFSFJ’s initiatives, he covered a wide range of topics – from  the "Wohnen für (Mehr)Generationen – Gemeinschaft stärken, Quartier beleben" programme launched in 2009 (the project name translates into (Multi-) Generational Housing – Stronger Community, Revitalized Neighbourhood), to measures promoting social housing, neighbourhood help schemes and community services, and more current projects like the WIN Networks advisory portal and the "Leben wie gewohnt" (Stay Living at Home) programme introduced in 2020.

Attending on the American side were: Emily Rosenoff, Director for the Division of Long-Term Services and Supports Policy, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and Dr. Calvin Johnson, Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Research, Evaluation and Monitoring, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. They each presented projects and studies from their respective fields of work. One of their major areas of focus was the coordination of service programmes surrounding housing, arranging (medical) care and reintegrating people back into their home environment after time spent in hospital or residential care.    

The speakers agreed that especially in the current pandemic situation, and also against the backdrop of increasing individualisation and ageing populations, housing once again takes on a special significance, while communal living helps avoid loneliness and social isolation. A functioning neighbourhood with willing volunteers, social communication and social interaction are the cornerstones of active life, social cohesion and efforts to prevent exclusion. A modern understanding of community and inclusion must take in not only the issue of disability, but also that of ageing and the need to counteract separation between age groups and generations. Communal and multi-generational housing is especially important here, as are aids and assistance that help people live self-determined lives in old age. This can be out-patient care programmes, social and domestic services, or a midday meal arrangement that enables people to meet and talk, and which is also offered to those on low incomes. Technical and digital aids are equally important in promoting independence and social encounter.

The online meeting was the result of a visit to Germany by a delegation from the German Marshall Fund and Harvard University back in October 2019:  sharing-ideas-on-housing-and-care.html

During that visit, which was part of a fact-finding trip for a research project on intergenerational housing, the delegates gathered information on housing projects and neighbourhood development schemes at various locations, including Hanover and Berlin. The recent online event continues that exchange, taking it into the future. Announcing a further expert dialogue meeting to be held at the end of the year, most probably with results from the research project, event moderator Anne Marie Brady fittingly exclaimed: “It’s not the end, it’s a beginning!”

Further information:

ASPE Study: Support And Services at Home (SASH) Evaluation

The IWISH Project: Integrated Wellness in Supportive Housing

German Marshall Fund – GMF Cities

Harvard University – Joint Center for Housing Studies