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Ward 7 News: Creative Solutions for Seniors Housing

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Many of us baby boomers who have aging parents are colliding with a health care and housing system that is ill equipped for the next wave of senior citizens.Over the next 30 years, one half of Calgary’s population will be outside the working age. Where seniors want to live, how they live, and move around the city will change dramatically.

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For older adults who are fairly healthy and mobile, home care services are available to help folks stay in their family home as long as possible. Home care is far more cost effective than a supportive-living residence, and there will be a need to expand and adapt home care services that include the involvement of local neighbourhood networks.For those who want to stay at home but need some extra resources, secondary suites or laneway units are increasingly seen as a practical solution.Secondary suites can bring in extra income, and special tenant arrangements can offer extra security and help with household chores. The City of Calgary as well as the Province of Alberta offer several programs that provide seniors with additional support to allow seniors to stay in their homes.

At some stage, the need for security, support, and companionship may prompt seniors or their families to look for alternatives. Options that exist today provide little comfort. There are long waiting lists for publicly funded housing and a first available bed policy, which requires continuing care residents to accept a placement within 80 km of their home, often separating individuals from their friends, family, and, cruelly, even their spouses.

Collaborating with seniors on cohousing designs can provide innovative housing options for our aging population in Calgary.
Collaborating with seniors on cohousing designs can provide innovative housing options for our aging population in Calgary.

Creative Solutions The limitations around publicly funded housing have some families resorting to private care. Private care corporations, funded by Real Estate Investment Trusts, operate with the primary goal of a financial return to the shareholder, rather than guaranteeing effective care. Costs average at $5000 per month per couple, including food and activities. Prices for private care are considerably higher in Calgary than Edmonton. It is widely acknowledged that Calgary is experiencing a housing crunch. Demographic forecasts suggest that it will only get worse in the coming years.One of the key lessons from the 2013 flood was that Calgarians have the great ability to self-organize.Rather than waiting for governments to solve the problem, more and more boomers are coming up with their own solutions. Let’s explore some of the current options available to seniors:

Cooperative housing: Originating in Denmark, the co-housing idea is spreading around the world, and can be as varied as the people who live there. Co-housing encourages social connections, an increased sense of community, and strengthens informal supports. In countries like the United Kingdom, co-housing is being promoted as an important housing solution and their goal is a co-housing project for seniors on every street. It can be as simple as a group of friends sharing a home (think Golden Girls), or people with common interests living with a more formal structure, formed as a society with its own bylaws. Two great examples are Babayaga’s House in Paris, France and Abbeyfield Society locations found in several countries around the world.

Many cities encourage the conversion of large homes into shared living or purpose-built, for accessibility and security, including for those with dementia. They normally have private bedrooms and sitting rooms with common kitchens and amenity space. They can be exclusively for seniors or multi-generational. Residents can pool their resources and hire their own chefs, arrange for their own activities, and are often linked in to volunteer networks and health care providers.
Elder cottages, which can be placed in the side or rear yard of the family home, are charming self-contained, energy efficient dwellings that offer independence and privacy.
Elder cottages, which can be placed in the side or rear yard of the family home, are charming self-contained, energy efficient dwellings that offer independence and privacy.

Temporary homes: For those seniors who want to live close to their adult children but not with them, Australia allows temporary modular cottages to be installed in rear yards. An Elder Cottage Housing Opportunity (ECHO) is a small temporary home that can be installed in a backyard. They are small and self-contained (usually between 400 and 800 square feet) and allow someone to remain independent while still living within earshot of their family. It includes all the amenities of a house - a kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and living room - on a tiny scale. They first gained popularity in Australia, where they're known as granny flats, in the 1970s. ECHO housing caught on in the United States in the late 1980s and has since been promoted as an inexpensive housing solution for older adults.

What is the City of Calgary doing to address this?The City of Calgary is in the process of developing a Seniors Age Friendly Strategy and housing will be a part of the initiative. As we plan our city for the future, we need to continually review the current state of housing and present new possibilities that address the interrelated issues of housing, communities, services, and financial concerns. We need creative ways to provide a wide range of smart solutions, including remodeling current housing and building new homes for accessibility and safety, retrofitting existing neighborhoods to connect needed services and amenities, and planning new communities that work well for people of all ages.


"Living a long life is good but aging well is better." 

This content represents the personal views and opinions of the Ward Councillor and should not be taken as a statement of policy of The City of Calgary. The inclusion of any external content does not imply endorsement by The City of Calgary.

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