Speakers dealt with health care, income and inequality. John Anderson, of CAUS was invited to speak on seniors’ housing at the Seniors Vote rally organized by the National Pensioners Federation for the UN International Day of Older Persons on October 1, 2015 on Parliament Hill. Here is is his speech:
Seniors’ Housing: the Need for a National Strategy News story after news story (like those a few days ago) tells us about the huge increase in the number of seniors that is coming over the next years in Canada. But are governments talking about what this means for housing for seniors?
No is the answer!
We are the only G7 country without a national housing strategy. Should we be surprised from this government that when there is no national housing strategy and no national seniors’ strategy that there is no national seniors’ housing strategy?
Massive increase in seniors’ population
Estimates from Statcan show that by July 1 2015, for the first time, there were more persons aged 65 years and older in Canada than children aged 0 to 14 years. Nearly one in six Canadians (16.1%)—a record 5,780,900 Canadians—was at least 65 years old, compared with 5,749,400 children aged 0 to 14 years (16.0%).
According to the most recent population projections, the share of persons aged 65 years and older will continue to increase. It should account for 20.1% of the population on July 1, 2024.The absolute numbers of seniors will double from 5.8 million in 2015 to some 10.1 million in 2035. By 2051 roughly one in four Canadians is expected to be 65 or over.
And right now housing is not good for many seniors!
Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation notes that: “In 2006, senior households were more likely to live in unacceptable housing than non-senior households, especially if they were single-person households.”
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 do and will remain in their own homes but where are the programs and supports to help them do this?
For example, a study of BC seniors housing estimated 50% of seniors who rent have affordability issues. As well many seniors need to have their homes adapted to assure they can continue to live in them and age in place.
- Ok so what if you are part of the seniors particularly those over 75 who need purpose built seniors housing?
Well you will find that there is very little seniors’ housing, and, in general, it is very, very expensive.
As of 2015 in terms of purpose built seniors housing, CMHC says that in Canada there were, 224,962 seniors living in 2794 seniors’ housing centres.
The vacancy rate in seniors’ housing residences in Canada decreased slightly over the past year, reaching 8.1 per cent in 2015.
But of these 225,000 places they are very unevenly distributed Quebec has 111,973 or 49.8% of the total spaces in Canada. Ontario has only 53,680!
But with over 5 million seniors right now, and the number growing rapidly and doubling to 10 million 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. Among the provinces, the lowest average rents for bachelor units and private rooms were posted in Quebec ($1,521), while the highest average rents were recorded in Ontario ($2,815).
Ottawa has a ridiculously high average rent of $3,134!
Because, in part at least, due to these high rates, the rate of seniors’ population aged 75 years and over in seniors’ homes across Canada was quite low, at 8.9%. The highest rate was in Quebec (18.5 %), while the lowest rate of occupancy was in Nova Scotia (1.9%).
Canada has no national housing strategy and no seniors’ housing strategy
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:
- 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.
- Assuring that low income Canadians can remain in their own home with subsidies to units, home tax deferrals and other programs to assure they can
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 act
- 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.
- 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 to mental health issues to hospices and palliative care
Right now we need a new federal government which will move on this issue working with provinces and territories, municipalities and First Nations and take a real leadership role before it is too late!
 CMHC 2011 Housing Observer https://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/en/corp/about/cahoob/upload/Chapter_8_EN_W.pdf
 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