Seniors’ Housing: the Need for a National Strategy
While the huge increase in the number of seniors that is coming over the next years in Canada is generally well known, the implications of this growth for seniors’ housing are rarely mentioned. There is no national seniors’ housing strategy, and conditions and programs vary greatly in provinces and territories.
Massive increase in seniors’ population
As of July 1, 2014, Statcan estimated that 15.7% of Canada’s population (nearly one in six Canadians) was aged 65 and older. In 1984, the proportion of Canadians aged 65 and older was 10.0%. By 2016, the number of seniors aged 65 and older would be greater than the number of children under the age of 15. The absolute numbers of seniors will double from 5 million in 2011 to 10.4 million in 2036.[i] By 2051 roughly one in four Canadians is expected to be 65 or over.[ii]
CMHC notes, from Census data, that “In 2006, senior households were more likely to live in unacceptable housing than non-senior households, especially if they were single-person households.”[iii]
Also it is important to underline that there is generally a much higher percentage of seniors in small town Canada than in the large cities, and, yet, it is in these small towns that seniors’ housing and seniors’ services are less available than in big cities.
Most seniors remain in their own homes but need programs and supports
For the vast majority of seniors, who remain in their own homes and wish to do so, there are many issues that need to be addressed to make this option more viable. For example, many seniors live in rental housing and have serious affordability issues. A study of BC seniors housing estimated 50% of seniors who rent have affordability issues.[iv] As well many seniors need to have their homes adapted to assure they can continue to live in them and age in place.
Very little seniors’ housing, and, in general, very expensive.
As for purpose built seniors housing, CMHC says that in Canada there were in 2014, “219,052 spaces in seniors’ housing residences in 2014, with the majority (76.5 per cent) being standard spaces. (note: that roughly 50% of these spaces are in Quebec) The vacancy rate of standard spaces in seniors’ housing residences in Canada decreased slightly over the past year, reaching 9.7 per cent in 2014”.[v] But with over 5 million seniors right now, and the number growing rapidly and doubling over the next 20 years, not only is this number of units very small and the spaces represent housing for only roughly 4% of seniors, but just to provide the same access in the future, some 200,000 spaces would have to be built over the next 20 years.
Also the cost of seniors’ housing is today very high. “The average rent for bachelor units and private rooms, where at least one meal is included in the rent, rose from $1,995 per month in 2013, to $2,043in 2014. Prince Edward Island posted the highest average rent at $2,782, while Quebec had the lowest at $1,497.”[vi] The highest average rents in cities were: Toronto ($3,206), Regina ($3,105) and Ottawa ($3,017). [vii] In most provinces, the average rent levels are far above the maximum of $1328 per month which a single person with only OAS and GIS would receive.
Because, in part at least, due to these high rates, the rate of seniors’ population aged 75 years and over in seniors’ homes was quite low, at 8.9%. The highest rate was in Quebec (18.6 %), while the lowest rate of occupancy was in Nova Scotia (2.0 %).[viii]
Canada has no national housing strategy and no seniors’ housing strategy
Canada is the only major G8 country without a national housing strategy and is also without a national seniors’ housing strategy. The present and growing number of seniors will require different kinds of housing, and each kind of housing choice must have programs attached to it to assure its availability for seniors. We need a national seniors’ housing strategy, developed with the federal, provincial and territorial governments as well as with aboriginal governments and municipalities. A housing strategy for seniors needs to be co-ordinated with the healthcare services such as homecare. A national seniors’ housing strategy would include:
1. Development of comprehensive programs to help seniors stay in their own home. Most seniors today remain in their own homes but many need programs that will help them with aging in place.
a) Assuring that low income Canadians can remain in their own home with subsidies to units, home tax deferrals and other programs to assure b) Making improvements to help them make their homes seniors friendly. While some provinces have home improvement tax credits or grants, these kinds of programs are generally very limited.c) Providing the home care and other health services that will allow seniors to stay in their own homes and not be forced into long term care facilities which for many seniors are not the right place for them and are extremely costly as well as blocking services that could be used by others who really need this kind of care.d) While many seniors live with others in their own home, many do not and live alone. Of these seniors, many are increasingly isolated and alone. Networks need to be created that will keep all seniors in contact with sources of help, friendship and activity.e) Creating programs to allow seniors who want to share housing with other seniors This can help some seniors stay in their own home by providing a new source of income and allow other seniors to remain in a home environment with other seniors.
2. Creation of more purpose built seniors’ housing, including more affordable seniors’ housing, and the upgrading of existing seniors’ housing.
The reasons why seniors want or have to move into seniors’ housing are very varied, and, thus, we need different kinds of seniors’ housing and care. As much as possible, we need to provide a wide range of seniors’ options:a) independent living rental and purchase housing options in seniors and mixed age buildings or in plus 55 developments (including Life Lease and Equity co-operatives) b) subsidized rental accommodation for low income seniors in municipal, not for profit, and co-operative housing c) all forms of supportive and assisted living to meet the health needs of seniors from physical
[iii] CMHC 2011 Housing Observer https://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/en/corp/about/cahoob/upload/Chapter_8_EN_W.pdf
[iv] BC Non-profit Housing Association, The Need for Non-Profit Seniors’ Housing
in British Columbia, 2010 http://www.bcnpha.ca/media/Research/SENIORS%20REPORT%20-%20FINAL.pdf
[v] CMHC, Seniors Housing Report, 2014, http://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/odpub/esub/65991/65991_2014_A01.pdf?lang=en