Seniors' Housing: Challenges, Issues, and Possible Solutions for Atlantic Canada

The population of seniors in Atlantic Canada differs from that in other Canadian provinces in three main respects. First, the proportion of the region’s senior population is higher and growing faster than in other provinces, resulting in a greater demand for a wider variety of housing options. With the exception of Newfoundland at 14.4%, the Atlantic Provinces have the highest percentages of seniors in the country. For example, the total population of Nova Scotia is expected to decline by approximately four and a half percent (4.69%) between 2007 and 2033. The 55–64 age group will decline similarly (4.86%) between 2007 and 2033. In contrast, the seniors’ population (65+) is projected to increase 86.3% between 2007 and 2033 to 257,874. The second feature that distinguishes Atlantic Canada is that the income level of the region’s seniors is lower than the national average, and housing solutions available in other parts of the country may not be financially feasible for many Atlantic Canadian seniors. Finally, when compared to the rest of Canada, a larger proportion of the Atlantic Provinces’ population, including seniors, live in rural areas. While a variety of urban-area housing options are being developed, rural areas may need to devise different strategies. It is clear that when people begin to approach their senior years, their available choices for living arrangements may narrow as they become less able to cope with the everyday demands of living due to changes in health and/or financial status. Some people will be reasonably healthy and have sufficient financial security to live where and how they want, but many will not. The number and type of housing options that are available to Atlantic Canada’s rapidly aging population begin to narrow as the everyday demands of living become more onerous and increasing assistance is required. Health status and income levels are important determining factors for the types of housing options and support services that will be available to an individual. Further, the needs and wants of contemporary seniors are very different from those of their parents and very little is known about how these differences will impact future living choices. As the Baby Boomer generation continues to move into older age and the proportion of seniors within Atlantic Canada’s population increases, it is clear that the housing needs of successive age cohorts, including those now upon us, will have very different housing needs and wants. Studies on seniors’ housing consistently report that seniors prefer to remain in their own homes for as long as possible. The studies also report that seniors want to make their own decisions with respect to their needs and lifestyle. Seniors say that the benefits of aging in place include a feeling of independence and control, safety and security, the ability to be near family, and having familiarity with their surroundings. Major barriers to aging in place include the inability to maintain property, followed by inadequate finances, illness, the need for safety and security, inadequate family support, and transportation access issues. To overcome these barriers, creative housing initiatives are needed. Aging-in-place initiatives must also take into account the diversity of situations and needs of seniors given differences in age, physical ability and mental health, economic/financial status, gender, rural/urban status, current housing situation, culture, and personal preferences. When the Atlantic Seniors Housing Research Alliance (ASHRA) project was conceived, it was understood that little was known about the housing needs and preferences of either those already in their senior years or the Baby Boomer cohort (rapidly turning 65). Further, it was not known how these needs and preferences would impact our society in the future. Therefore, the research design of the ASHRA program had to be multi-faceted and multi-disciplinary in nature in order to build a detailed picture of aging Atlantic Canadians and their potential living arrangement needs over the future 20 years. For such a multi-faceted research design to be successful, the involvement and input of a diverse array of individuals and organizations is required – researchers/academics; representatives from all levels of government (particularly policymakers); housing developers and planners; support service providers; communities at large; and perhaps most importantly, senior citizens.

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