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The oldest form of collective housing for older people is the almshouse. In many towns from the 13th century on, almshouses were built for older people and other vulnerable members of society such as widows and unmarried people. Most were founded by the church, the city council or wealthy citizens. Residents had their own rooms and shared communal facilities such as the kitchen, dining rom and washrooms. In the 20th century, collective housing for older people took various forms with different names: retirement homes, care homes and rest homes among them.

The essence of this type of provision is the combination of accommodation and care. The homes were intended for older people capable of living relatively independently but who required a limited amount of home help or care. Prior to the Second World War, many of these facilities were differentiated in terms of faith, social class, gender and profession, and were funded by these particular groups. After the war, with the advent of the welfare state and the introduction, in 1956, of the state pension (Algemene Ouderdomswet), care for older people became a spearhead of the new social policy. It was the beginning of a construction explosion in which the combination of accommodation and care developed into a distinct typology. In this period, we see the emergence of complexes for the elderly consisting of studios and one-bedroom apartments, a nursing home, a wing for resident personnel and sometimes also a small hospital.

In these types of home, the relationship between private space (the resident’s own accommodation) and communal spaces (such as dining and recreation areas) varied, reflecting changing perspectives on social contact, privacy and economic viability. Recently, stricter need assessments have resulted in the closure of many care homes. In some cases, the individual rooms have been converted and sold as apartments for older people. There are also initiatives in which former care homes have been converted into community healthcare centres that can also be used by older people living independently.