Fighting for Senior Housing

Looking ahead to the future always holds some questions. But seniors shouldn’t have to worry about where they will live, how they will afford it, or who might care for them in the future. Barrie, Ontario CARP volunteer Gwen Kavanagh is very concerned about the prospect of senior housing in Canada, and is working tirelessly with her CARP community to bring about change.

Unfortunately, these are legitimate concerns for a number of reasons:

  • Long-term Care: COVID-19 revealed how broken our long-term care system is. CARP is advocating for a culture change. Not only that, but with a greatly increased older demographic on the horizon, many will not be able to find a place in long-term care.
  • Home and Community Care – 96% of CARP members tell us they want to age in place, and nearly a quarter have admitted to supplementing publicly funded home care with private alternatives. CARP is urging governments to recognize that home care and community-based care solutions are critical to resolving the long-term care crisis.
  • Affordable Housing – In our large 2023 survey, 74% of members said they were “concerned or very concerned” about affordable housing.Food bank use increased by a staggering 36 per cent among Ontario residents 65 and older in 2021 alone and has ballooned by 64 per cent since 2008, an indicator that suggests seniors are struggling to obtain affordable shelter, which results in insufficient funds to pay for food.
  • Appropriate Housing – CARP wants the government to be more proactive and creative in developing more opportunities for co-housing and other affordable housing solutions for seniors.
  • Universal Design – CARP believes that governments should ensure that, whatever their age or ability, every person in Canada can live in housing that is fully accessible. To this end, we call on every level of government to make universal design mandatory in every unit in all new multi-unit residential buildings. Read about making accommodations to your home.

Barrie CARP is part of the Seniors Housing Alliance-Simcoe County: Creative Options for Living Well, a group of members dedicated to addressing the current and impending seniors’ housing crisis. The group is concerned with the current and projected lack of suitable senior housing to meet the needs of a growing seniors’ population. 

Simply put, Gwen notes, “There aren’t enough good options for seniors. Seniors should be able to age gracefully with dignity in a suitable, healthy, safe, socially-connected and caring environment.”

Gwen says that while there are fortunate individuals who are not in need of housing solutions, the reality is that there are many, many individuals who suddenly find themselves re-evaluating their living situation, whether because of a fall or illness that changes independence needs, a loss of a partner, or other life circumstances. Part of her work involves educating other seniors about the importance of being proactive, “It just takes one fall. One stroke. When you’re reactive instead of proactive, you don’t have as many options.”

She recommends older Canadians think through their resources and options and plan ahead, or downsize ahead of time. 

The housing options the Senior Housing Alliance-Simcoe County are currently pursuing include: 

  1. Various types of inclusive housing for older adults. 
  2. Renovating/modifying single family dwellings. 
  3. Building smaller more socially designed pods within floors of a condominium or apartment buildings to accommodate seniors as co-owners or tenants with private suites and shared common areas. 
  4. Constructing purpose-built Co-housing communities or larger socially designed developments. 
  5. Retrofitting existing buildings or constructing purpose-built structures while avoiding extreme mixed housing building projects that mix owners tenants and types of accommodation that can result in unsafe and sometimes dangerous outcomes; and 
  6. SpacesShared in partnership with Georgian College where seniors offer accommodation to students – providing extra income for the homeowner, companionship and help with chores. 

Gwen says a lot of thought has been put into creative Co-housing options and processes, and models already exist in communities across the country, such as Solterra or Urban Green Cohousing.

She notes, “There’s a well-developed plan and process for these models; it’s not like you are just put with anyone. It has to be the right fit in a number of ways.”

She describes models with different levels of care, “In all cases, you have up to six individuals in a Co-housing space. Each person has their own bedroom, bathroom and sitting room, and share a common kitchen and living room. All who share the space have equal say.  In some cases, there is a “try before you buy,” where you can stay for a few months before deciding if it’s a fit.”

One way individuals are grouped relates to care needs. “There’s what we call the ‘Golden Girls’ model, where everyone is independent. Then there’s a model for those who are slightly less independent and need some assistance, care can be shared and brought in about 30% of the week. Finally, there are shared spaces for those who need help with everyday living activities.”

Gwen notes that co-housing allows individuals to split the cost-of-living, and free up their savings for other purposes. “You no longer have to be house-rich and income poor. If you sell your house and go into co-housing, you may have more money for your care, or travel, or whatever you prioritize.”

She says that one of the benefits of creative housing options is it can decrease loneliness, and it can mean that you can stay within your own community. 

“We need villages.  Even in cities, we need villages, where you can walk out your door to go to the pharmacy or a coffee shop, and where you already know people.”

Read about Age-Friendly Cities