Sustainable Affordable Housing For Pensioners

While the seniors population is increasing steadily the supply of affordable seniors housing remains virtually unchanged. For many seniors on fixed incomes the only affordable option is ‘subsidized seniors housing’. Demand is outstripping supply in many highly populated urban areas. More attention must be focused on the need for a sufficient and sustainable supply of affordable housing for low-income seniors.

The need for social housing for this segment of our population is more pressing in some regions of Canada, especially in heavily populated areas where seniors have to wait years to be housed on account of very long waiting lists. We need to bear in mind that the supply of subsidized, or rent-geared-to income, housing for seniors varies by province and is the responsibility of the provincial and municipal levels of government. One part of the equation is the need for some real pension reform. The policies and regulations of the federal government impact the debate as they relate to a more fair and equitable pension system, allowing those on fixed incomes to properly keep up with the cost of living.

It is inexcusable that governments have not put in place a sustainable housing policy to meet the needs of this expanding segment of the population. The seniors in this demographic do not require ‘assisted living’ or ‘long term care’ accommodation. These seniors are healthy, can live independently but are challenged trying to survive on a fixed income. They do not have generous company pensions or personal savings. Seniors in lower income brackets never earned the kind of income that would have allowed them to create a nest-egg for their retirement. And in some instances retirees have seen their company pensions and personal savings evaporate due to the economic meltdown and corporate fraud. And those responsible for the economic fiasco were given a bailout… with our taxpayers dollars!  Seniors have to opt for ‘subsidized seniors housing’ rather than ‘market value seniors housing’ which is the more expensive option. Renters, whether pensioners or not, should not be paying more than 33% of their monthly income on rental costs. For seniors on fixed incomes it should be less.

In addition to the cost differential and maintenance issues in social housing, healthy seniors seeking subsidized housing also face a huge waiting list. Seniors in less populated regions do not have to contend with the formidable waiting lists that seniors in large cities are faced with. Other than the obvious cost difference between  ’subsidized seniors housing’ and ‘market value seniors housing’ there are also differences in maintenance standards and desirability of location.

It is well documented in the media that maintenance standards in social housing are sub-standard and unsatisfactory.  Many of the buildings designated as social housing for seniors and other rents are ageing and need retrofitting and upgrading. (NOTE –  Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) has posted publications on this matter. Check their website: http://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/en/index.cfm for projects on social housing in Canada) .

At the provincial level another option should be given due consideration. That is, to offer a subsidy to healthy seniors currently residing in ‘market value’ buildings who have no wish to move. This was suggested in the article “Seniors and Looming Housing Crisis” by a tenants group in Ontario. Designating or allocating a certain number of units in market value buildings for social housing is a reasonable and sensible solution to the housing crunch faced by low-income seniors. Benefits range from affordability, stability, no disruption and stress related to having to move, to the comfort of being able to remain in a familiar and convenient environment. This option would ease the demand for affordable housing for low-income seniors who can live independently.

The most effective option that has not been in the forefront of the debate is to increase the supply of affordable social housing for seniors by encouraging new construction. Why has there not been an increase in the construction of affordable seniors housing to meet the expanding population of seniors? We all recognize there has been an increase in demand for social housing due to the expanding population of seniors but there has not been an adequate response to meet the challenge. In the face of the changing demographics more government efforts should be invested in creating opportunities to increase the supply of social housing for needy seniors.

Clearly sustainable affordable housing for pensioners of modest incomes needs to have a higher priority on the agenda of governments. Government policy should encourage the construction of an adequate supply of social housing for seniors to meet the challenge. All levels of government need to cooperate in order to address this housing challenge to low-income seniors. With the increase in the senior population this issue will not go away. The outcome of finance minister Jim Flaherty’s public consultations on pension reform did not do much to address the concerns of seniors on modest incomes. (Refer to this link: http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/story/2010/03/24/flaherty-pensions.html)

In the absence of a more logical system for pension indexation, and with an inadequate supply of affordable housing for renters in this target group, we will continue the involuntary warehousing of a vulnerable segment of society. That is nothing to be proud of! Perhaps it’s time our governments take a good look at how other progressive countries are tackling this challenge and treating their senior citizens.

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About Golden Wave Movement Canada

The Golden Wave Movement is a made up of engaged individuals who have serious concerns about the increasing challenges retirees surviving on modest pension incomes face nowadays. While our main purpose is to raise awareness of the financial difficulties faced by this vulnerable group of citizens, we also intend to raise awareness regarding challenges related to their physical, emotional and psychological well-being.
This entry was posted in Baby boomers, Cost of Living, Elders, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, Golden wave, Pension Reform, Pensioners, Seniors demographic, Seniors fixed income, Seniors rent-geared-to-income, Seniors social housing and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Sustainable Affordable Housing For Pensioners

  1. KD says:

    Housing costs consume most of the income of seniors surviving on fixed incomes. The cost of everything is going up quietly and we all sit silent as if we have taken a zombie pill. The pension reforms have not gone far enough. Minister Flaherty seems to think this little effort will be sufficient to deal with the coming tsunami of seniors who will be retiring in the next 5-10 years. It won’t. The bailout should have been spread to infrastructure projects to alleviate the high level of unemployment.

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  2. Myra says:

    Why didn’t some of the stimulus money go to construction of affordable social housing for seniors? That would not only be a great social benefit but would have had a positive effect on the economy. That type of construction would have contributed in a positive way to the terrible economy downturn. That construction is geniune infrastructure activity — that would also have meant more job creation. Everybody wins!

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  3. MaryE says:

    The waiting lists for seniors housing are a shame. More seniors housing should be constructed. I am now retired and have been waiting to get into seniors subsidized housing for over 5 years. I have paid taxes for over 40 years. What is the reason for paying taxes all those years? Is it just to pay for politicans salaries! My rent eats up almost 5o% of my pension since I live in a regular building. I have been living in my apartment for 18 years and I think it is a good idea for a rent supplement so that I can remain in my present apartment.

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