Know your options for independent living
By Peggy Edwards | October 2019
Most older adults want to live independently in their homes and communities for as long as possible. Some are looking to downsize or relocate (rent or buy) in a welcoming community that better suits our changing needs, as we grow older. Some realize that they need help with daily living tasks or need a home that is more accessible for emerging mobility problems. Others are strained by the cost of maintaining their current home. But increasingly, we find ourselves stuck. There are just not enough affordable, suitable options for seniors available in the neighbourhoods that we would like to live.
The Council on Aging of Ottawa Age-Friendly Housing Committee has just released Housing Options in Ottawa: A Guide for Older Adults 2019. It includes lots of information on housing options for seniors, as well as a checklist of questions to ask when making decisions about where you want to live now and in the future. Here are some of the options for independent living in the community. I will write about retirement homes and long-term care in another column.
One option is moving in with family members or having them come to live with you. If you are considering this, you and your family will need to think carefully about your expectations and how things will work. Another option is to “create a family,” wherein three or four independent people sell their individual homes and buy or rent one large house or condo unit together. They typically share spaces such as the kitchen, living room and garden while having private bedrooms and bathrooms. This kind of “Golden Girls” scenario is an idea that comes up all the time in talks with my friends. But to make this work you need to agree on many things including: private and shared spaces, financial arrangements, visitors and guests, commitments to supporting each other, what you will do if one person does not fit or leaves, and desired location of the home.
Some people are trying two other variations on shared living with family, that provide privacy while allowing families to be close and to share some expenses:
- Building an apartment in the family home for the parents/grandparents while the young family lives in the main part of the house.
- Building a coach house (sometimes called a “granny flat’) on the property of the family home.
Home sharing is a living arrangement where two or more unrelated people live in a single dwelling. While each person has his or her own private space, they typically share common areas such as the living room and kitchen. Home sharing is a good option for seniors who have a large house with bedrooms they are not using. It can provide an income to help with the cost of your house, companionship, and a sense of security. Intergenerational home sharing is increasingly popular (e.g. students living with seniors). Students and senior homeowners both enjoy more affordable housing and develop satisfying relationships. Students may provide help with home maintenance or computer activities in exchange for reduced payments. Seniors provide “a home away from home” and can help mentor young people embarking in a field of study of mutual interest.
With co-housing, a group of people gets together to plan and develop their housing community, typically in an apartment-like setting. It can either be a new build or an adaptation of an existing building. Residents own their own unit, but often share support services and spaces such as dining and recreational facilities. In senior co-housing, the residents design and manage the housing themselves and rely on neighbourly mutual support. A resident caregiver can also be engaged as needed.
Affordable rental options
There is a real lack of affordable rental spaces in Ottawa, Toronto and most other cities. Only people with very low incomes qualify for subsidized housing and there are long waiting lists.
Two other options in increasing demand are:
Co-operative housing is a type of not-for-profit rental housing controlled by its members. Some households pay a reduced monthly rent geared to their income. Others pay the full monthly charge based on the operating costs of the building.
Housing built in partnership with churches and non-profit organizations. These housing developments typically offer affordable rents for seniors living independently.
Renovate to stay in your home
Renovating to meet your current and future needs may allow you to stay in your current home. Modifications you may want to consider include adding grab bars in the bathroom; installing a walk-in bathtub or shower, hand railings, and a stair lift; modifying kitchen cupboards, and adding a bathroom, bedroom and laundry room to the main floor.
The Ontario Renovates program provides limited funding to low-income seniors and to persons with disabilities who own their home and need to make accessibility modifications that support independent living. For more information, about the Ontario Renovates program and energy rebate programs, visit showmethegreen.ca/home/home-improvement /ontario-renovation-grants-2018.
Engage community services to stay in your home
Whether you own or rent, you can bring in community support services to help you stay in your current home. By connecting with your local community support service agency, you can get help with Meals on Wheels, housekeeping, lawn maintenance, medical transportation and much more. Some community support services may be covered; others may require a contribution to support the services. Sometimes you may be required to pay the full amount. Visit champlainhealthline.ca for current information about a wide range of community and health resources.
The 4-A’s of suitable housing
The Age-Friendly Housing Committee at the Council on Aging of Ottawa advocates for affordable, accessible, appropriate, and available housing (the 4-A’s) on the continuum from independent living to long-term care.
Affordable: Affordable housing costs less than 30 per cent of your before-tax income (for a person living alone). Housing costs include mortgage or rent, utilities, property taxes, and other fees. The affordability of independent housing and assisted living in retirement homes for low-and moderate-income seniors, both renters and homeowners, is challenging in the current market.
Accessible: As people age, they may experience physical and cognitive changes that make it difficult to stay in their home. The home may need to be adapted to make it more accessible for people with disabilities or who are frail. As the number of people over the age of 65 continues to increase, there is a need for more accessible living options in the community.
Appropriate: Regardless of the setting, appropriate housing is safe, secure and well-maintained. Living independently in the community is the appropriate choice for most older people. Housing that is close to public transit and services (e.g. shops, libraries, parks, seniors centres) allows older people to fully take part in the community. Neighbourhoods that encourage social contact help prevent isolation. For seniors with health problems that cannot be managed with help from community services, assisted living may be a more appropriate option.
Available: Older adults want options that are affordable, accessible and appropriate. Too often these options are limited or just not available in their community of choice. Some options, such as co-housing or home sharing either do not exist or are not available. Other housing options such as subsidized housing and long-term care homes have long waitlists.
It is a big decision to move or change your living arrangements at any stage of life, but especially in older age. Think about what you want and need, now and in the future. Doing this now, before a crisis forces you to move, makes the decision easier and likely ensures you will be happy with your choice.
I hope you will join the Age-Friendly Housing Committee (I am a co-chair) in advocating with elected officials and governments at all levels and with developers to support more seniors’ housing that addresses the 4-A’s and provides more options in our communities.
For more information
Housing Options in Ottawa: A Guide for Older Adults 2019 from the Council on Aging of Ottawa. Go to coaottawa.ca for an electronic copy or call (613) 789-3577 (Ext. 101) for how to get a paper copy. The Guide is also available in French.
Seniors Real Estate Specialists are specially qualified to address the real estate needs of those age 50-plus: seniorsrealestate.com
Home Share Communities: homesharecanada.org/ON
Homeshare Alliance: homesharealliance.com
Canadian Co-housing Network: cohousing.ca
Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation: cmhc-schl.gc.ca
You must apply for subsidized housing in the city or region in which you live.
The Social Housing Registry of Ottawa is at housingregistry.ca
Co-operative Housing Association of Eastern Ontario: chaseo.coop
Dignified.ca provides up-to-date information on retirement homes, long-term care facilities, home care and related community services. Go to dignified.ca/en and enter the location or postal code for where you want to live.
What are your housing concerns as you grow older? Which housing options interest you? Write to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Peggy Edwards is a well-known writer and speaker on aging and health and is a co-author of The Healthy Boomer: A No Nonsense Midlife Health Guide for Women and Men and The Juggling Act: The Healthy Boomer’s Guide to Achieving Balance in Midlife, available at amazon.ca.