The vast majority of people want to stay at home and in their community for the longest time possible as they age. When suitable community options are available, very few want to move to an institution. In the coming years, will aging individuals have access to appropriate, affordable housing? How will they access stores, community services, recreation and health care, when their functional abilities are challenged?

The good news for Canada’s aging population is that the federal government in its 2016 budget announced that it will develop a national housing strategy, double the current federal funding in affordable housing (to $1.5 billion) and support the construction, repair and adaptation of affordable housing for seniors.

We are used to thinking of shortages in home care as a major cause for concern and push factor for institutionalization. It is indeed one. But equally problematic is the insufficient availability of affordable, appropriate housing for aging individuals. Seniors living on a tiny budget encounter additional challenges in finding such a rare commodity in Canada’s housing market. The few extra dollars in their pockets coming from a more generous Guaranteed Income Supplement will have a limited impact on their welfare if they can’t find an adequate place to live in.

Where should they go?

When aging individuals cannot access affordable housing, many find themselves in emergency and institutional care placements. Ensuring affordable housing is necessary to steer demand from higher cost health care and this requires well-planned adaptations and investments. As such, a national housing strategy is a key component of ‘aging in place’ and ensuring living environments are ‘age-friendly’.

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For sure, the place where people live matters much throughout their lives. But it matters even more in later years simply because they spend more time at home every day. Aging individuals may have to adapt their homes when encountering safety issues associated to older age such as risks of falls or when experiencing impaired mobility, vision loss or limited dexterity. They may also want to consider moving out to a smaller, more conveniently located and better adapted place when home maintenance becomes problematic, when their once larger household shrinks to only one or two persons or simply becomes too expensive.

If the policy goal is to ensure that larger proportions of aging individuals remain active in their communities and live independently for longer, housing solutions must be developed. Failure to do so will likely result in many seniors being trapped in inadequate, unaffordable houses; being unnecessarily moved to nursing homes; or even joining the growing ranks of homeless seniors across the country.

Increasing the availability of affordable, appropriate housing for seniors is a major component of reducing poverty, hunger and homelessness among vulnerable populations. A national housing strategy could address this fundamental issue for Canada’s aging population.

Nicole F. Bernier
Nicole F. Bernier is a researcher and writer on Canadian health and social policy, and an expert advisor with She worked from 2011 to 2016 as a research director at the Institute for Research on Public Policy and is the author of an IRPP Study entitled Improving Prescription Drug Safety for Canadian Seniors. @NicoleFBernier

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