NPF Housing Portfolio
Executive Liaison – Bernie LaRusic, Nove Scotia.
Barb Mikulec, British Columbia,
Bob Sexsmith, Ontario.
Previous Resolutions on Housing:
The National Pensioners Association (NPF) in the last three years have passed resolutions on the issue of Housing in Canada-Resolutions #1 in 2012, #2-#5 in 2014.
Be it resolved:
- that the NPF lobby the federal government and all other levels of government to pass into law provisions for a federal housing policy and provisions for adequate and affordable housing for all Canadian seniors.
- that the federal, provincial, and territorial governments accelerate plans to ensure that all seniors’ residences are equipped with the necessary systems and adequate staff in order to provide an efficient and timely evacuation and that any residences constructed in the future have a method of closing off sections of a building when fire occurs (e.g. a fire wall) as well as adequate staff on duty (especially during the evening hours) to assist in a speedy evacuation.
- that the federal and provincial governments assist with financial options to allow seniors to be able to afford to stay in their residences.
- that the federal and provincial governments create more low-income and affordable housing units across Canada.
- that the NPF work with other national and provincial seniors/retirees organizations and other allies to lobby federal, provincial and territorial governments to implement rent controls in provinces and territories where there are currently none in place.
Briefing Notes: Seniors Housing Issues
Health Canada’s National Framework on Ageing (NFA) focuses on five key principles that federal government should consider when determining housing policy for seniors. These include dignity, independence, participation, fairness and security. Seniors want to participate in their choices based on needs and preferences at all stages in their life, regardless of their ability to pay, giving them self-worth and a sense of dignity to keep seniors living a healthier, longer life.
The number of people in the very oldest age groups is expected to increase rapidly in the approaching decades.Statistics Canada has projected that there will be almost 1.6 million Canadians aged 85 and over in 2041, a number four times greater than the figure in 1995. (A Portrait of Seniors in Canada, second edition, Statistics Canada, 1997)
Five Housing Policy Principles include:
- providing a system that is focused on government policy, and servicing provincial and territorial housing needs for seniors
- providing options for seniors based on the principle for affordable, accessible housing in their location
- ensuring access to housing and services regardless of geographic location and ability to pay
- providing culturally sensitive options including ethno-cultural needs for seniors
- ensuring that measures for success such as national standards and regulations are in place and that these measures include information on user rates and satisfaction.
Since 1994 housing policy and delivery has been transferred to the provincial governments. There is a need to build the partnership between housing and health, as home-care can be a preventive measure to help seniors to delay more costly care for complex health needs. Home care services have been trimmed since 1994 to deal with costs, impacting seniors living independently in their own homes. Services such as house cleaning, meal preparation, bathing and dress were discontinued, unless they were paid for privately. By 1999 health and housing solidified their partnership with Independent Living including Supportive Living and Assisted Living programs.
By 2020 the Federal Co-operative Housing Program shuts down with the loss of rental assistance for many thousands of households. Canadians have ‘core housing needs’ when they pay more than 30% of their income to access adequate, affordable and suitable housing. Of seniors living alone who rented in 1996, 38% had core housing needs. (1996 census data).
Record low mortgage rates have allowed many Canadians to take on far too much debt getting into the housing market. The banks may start to raise interest rates, which may affect mortgage rates or house prices may drop. The result may be wiping out the equity in the homeowner’s nest egg. Seniors are often ‘house rich and cash poor’. Housing assets are unequally distributed, leading to wealth inequality. Potentially there will be a generational divide in terms of housing with more senior population who bought homes now having an asset that the millennials will not be able to achieve. The problem is a serious issue in cities where new immigration is concentrated and housing costs are high and seniors wish to live, closer to health centers.
Public policy intervention by all levels of government is needed to keep affordable home ownership an option for Canadians; to support affordable rental housing, to deal with special housing needs, and to create diverse, supportive, mixed income communities. A large and growing number of seniors are living alone and do not have the support that comes with a shared household and this situation particularly affects older senior women. In 1996 seniors made up 36% of all people living alone even they represented only 12% of the total population (Lindsay Colin. Statistical Snapshots of Canada’s Seniors. Health Canada 2000).
The majority of seniors hope to live independently for as long as possible, and need housing choices to suit their needs and preference at all stages of life. The choices reflect a sense of dignity and allow them to continue to participate in their community. Public services allow seniors to stay at home with home support, home-care and specially designed public transport. Other choices include public or nonprofit seniors’ housing, intermediate care and long-term care facilities, close to social and recreational services and transit. Although construction of appropriate housing choices has slowed, the need is urgent as our senior population is growing.
Seniors wish to be treated with respect, for their continuing role and contributions to family, friends, and community, and be treated as a full member of society. Stable affordable, accessible housing is an important part of living in age-friendly communities near services and transportation.
Policy Paper: with Recommendations for Action
Current Housing Policy:
1. Current data from the National Homeownership and Shelter shows that 69% of households in Canada, or 9.2 million of 13.3 million households, owned their dwelling. Homeownership was highest in the Maritimes and lowest in Nunavut. (Statistics Canada, National Housing Survey, 2011)
About 3.3 million households spend 30% or more of their total income on shelter, which is the threshold defined by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) to measure housing affordability-their ‘shelter costs’ for owner households include mortgage, electricity, heat, water, property taxes and condominium fees.
Almost three-fifths of owner households had a mortgage. About half a million tenant households lived in subsidized housing, with more 37% of tenant households in subsidized housing paying 30% or more of their total income towards shelter costs.
Over three million households (one in four) paid 30% or more of their household total income towards shelter costs. Of these 3.3 million households, about 1.7 million owned their dwelling and about 1.6 million rented. The highest proportion of homeowners who exceeded the 30% affordability threshold was from Vancouver at 34%, while Saguenay had the smallest proportion 18.9%. Over four in five owner household that paid 30% or more of total income towards shelter costs had a mortgage. (Statistics Canada, 2011)
Reasons for initiating changes:
Debt and ‘house rich, cash poor’ citizens in the senior years may feel anxiety when deciding whether their priorities are: paying the utilities, pay for needed medication, or nutritious food. Could more seniors be could be cared for in their community, before their needs become chronic and they arrive at the hospital with serious health issues? A progressive model of senior health management is practiced in Denmark. The Danish government policy is a suggested ‘best practice’. Each senior is visited once a year by a nursing team and if there is a need, the service is given. Denmark has built no new seniors complexes in the last 10 years and seniors are aging in place with the services provided as needed. Especially important is that changes are caught before urgent intervention, such as hospitalization, is required.
Too often acute care beds in Canada are used for seniors when they could be discharged but there is no suitable placement. The savings would be enormous to offer needed help for a senior in their preferred housing situation, or adaptations done to the home so that bathing, ramps, etc. are enabling safety and comfort at home.
Preventative action saves health funds, and is a progressive vision for seniors’ health. Upon release from a hospital, to help with transitioning from the hospital to home care, a trained advocate would ensure that adequate measures are in place so that re-hospitalization is not needed. Provision for seniors’ immediate needs, including visits for wound care and follow –up advice, may reduce or prevent costly readmissions to hospitals.
Policy Options to be considered:
There should be a wide selection of choices suitable for urban and rural seniors so that they can remain in their desired community, with access to adequate transportation to medical appointments, pharmacy, recreation and cultural events, in an age-friendly community.
Choices may include:
Rental housing, housing directly managed by governments or by a non-profit society, Cooperative housing, single room occupancy Hotels, low income Urban Singles, Purchased Housing Life Lease, Co-housing, Retirement Communities or Campus of Care. Purchased housing may provide independent living, supportive living, assisted living and residential care , Equity co-ops for seniors, Supportive housing, ‘Abbeyfield’ style living, Home sharing, assisted living, Temporary emergency housing includes shelters, transition homes, and hostels. The vast majority of seniors reside in the community: only about 7% live in institutions, although this proportion increases with advancing age, reaching 40% among seniors aged 85+. (Statistics Canada, 1997)
The pros and cons of each style of housing:
Housing choices rest with the availability and the wishes of seniors and their families. It should be noted that being in close proximity to a spouse and family members should be a serious consideration in choice of housing. Allow seniors to choose their housing model based on needs and wishes at each segment of their life. There should be expanded options for palliative and respite care as well as mental health housing.
Recommendations or options to consider for Seniors’ Housing issues:
- ensure that seniors are not paying more than 30% of their income for housing.
- adjust the level of subsidy available to needy seniors
- use the provincial average market rents, as reported by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, to determine the level of rent for subsidized housing.
- create a Homeowner Expense Deferral Account type program to allow seniors homeowners with low or moderate income to use the equity in their home to offset the costs by deferring some or all of their major ongoing and exceptional expenses associated with home ownership until their house is sold.
- amend the residential tenancy act, strata property act and any other relevant provincial legislation to protect tenants and owners who require non-structural modification to their unit, and to allow occupancy in their unit by a live-in caregiver.
- allow seniors who are in residential care or subsidized Registered Assisted Living to rent their homes while they are listed for sale.
- consult with Manufactured Home owners Association to ensure that equitable compensation is provided when manufactured home owners have to leave their home due to the sale or development of the property.
- work on a strategy for appropriate housing in remote or rural areas.
- work on plans for the homeless community housing needs.
- raise awareness of all subsidy and grant programs available to seniors.
- allow seniors to age in place with greater number of services provided in their home or assisted living placement.
- achieve a single room occupancy for residential care room, with ensuite bathroom. (Seniors Housing in BC Office of the Seniors Advocate, May 2015)
Position Paper on Seniors Housing
Of the 4 million tenant households over 500,000 (14% lived in subsidized housing and 86% lived in non-subsidized housing. Just over one third of tenant households in subsidized housing paid 30% or more of total income towards shelter costs. Single- parent households and non-family households were more likely to pay 30% or more of total income towards shelter costs.
About four in five households that bought a home between 2006 and 2011 had a mortgage. (Note-Housing affordability-The provinces and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation agreed in 1986 to measure housing affordability based on whether the household spent 30% or more of it average total income on shelter costs. (Statistics Canada, Census Subject Matter Secretariat, 2011)
Call to Action: A living wage for workers, and housing choices would enable citizens to assure housing was accessible and affordable. Some citizens work several jobs which are temporary or contract work without the benefits of sustained employment. Seniors are reluctant to stop work for fear of losing health benefits. Inadequate housing is detrimental to the health of our citizens. It is timely to address these issues with a coordinated health and housing policy.
When funds run out, or unexpected costs result in an inability to pay rent on time, citizens may find themselves homeless.
Vacancy rates are chronically low, and some tenants have faced landlords who need to do repairs, and once the repairs are completed the cost of their rental unit has increased so that the tenants are no longer able to continue living there. Wait lists for subsidized housing far exceed availability. Poorly maintained buildings are a safety concern for citizens. The numbers of seniors in serious jeopardy of homelessness are increasing. Stable housing would enable citizens to maintain a safe environment to live, and better health once the stress of inadequate housing is resolved. Government intervention is needed urgently.
Call to Action: Progressive actions include surveying the needs of the homeless community, building accommodating shelters that allow pets, arranging for storage of items for street people, women-only shelters, and transition workers who advise clients on opportunities for housing and health issues on a regular basis. Without action, the homeless numbers will increase and crime may increase, too.
3. Physical Challenges:
Are we serving our blind or deaf citizens with services and housing appropriately managed with staff able to communicate and assist seniors to retain their cognitive skills with appropriate cultural programs, food and services? The seniors’ cognitive functioning may decline in an atmosphere where isolation becomes pervasive.
Call to Action: A) Training of service providers to respond appropriately to the cultural and cognitive needs of all seniors should include deaf or blind sensitivity. B) Congregating some services within a range of facilities would ensure that there were services and companionship for seniors to build an age friendly climate suitable for their needs. Major centers in Canada should be encouraged to consider the needs of the blind or deaf seniors in placements and appropriate services. Spouses with differing needs should be offered placements in the same facility.
4. Sexual Orientation:
Seniors come from many backgrounds, and services need to reflect their needs. Seniors in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community may fear bias as their health declines. Seniors forced to hide their sexuality for most of their lives should not be pushed ‘back into the closet’ as their health declines. In the senior population, services may not validate the sexual identity of spouses.
In 1969 Canada decriminalized homosexuality. It took until 1996 for Canada to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Presently common fears around aging, illness hospitalization and possibly moving into seniors’ care can cause anxiety for this community. The legal rights have not changed the culture of living equalities, and prevent people from being fully included and feeling a sense of safety.
Call to Action: A) Health authorities add questions about sexual orientation and gender identity to their intake forms for publicly funded residential facilities, as research data is scarce for this senior population. B) Seniors are given more than 48 hours to accept or reject a bed when it becomes open, so they can determine whether it is suitable. (qmunity.ca , 2015)
5. First Nations Housing:
Housing is a federal responsibility for on-reserve housing. A report by the Assembly of First Nations in March 2013, self-reported a total of 107,627 housing units on reserve. Challenges include overcrowding, mold contamination, lack of basic amenities, lack or insufficient infrastructure including roads, water, sewer and power. There are obstacles to accessing Housing Programs due to third-party management, soaring debt burden and lack of resources (human, financial and material). It is estimated that by 2031 there will be a need for 130,197 new units to accommodate household and family growth.
Housing conditions on Reserves: 37% of First Nations households require major repairs, 51% report mold and mildew present in their homes. 94% of First Nations bands have waiting lists for housing, while 30% of those people wait between 4 to 6 years for housing. First Nations people are now recognized as the youngest and fastest growing segment of the Canadian population, with an ever-growing demand for better housing on reserve. (Assembly of First Nations June 2013)
Water, Sewage, Heat and Electricity: 32% of household water is unsafe to drink. 10% of households have no electricity or existing electrical problems. Almost 2000 homes on reserve are without water or sewage service.
Call to Action: All citizens of Canada deserve to have adequate housing. There needs to be annual standardized funding to deliver safe, secure and sustainable housing in First Nations communities. Long-term goals are needed to support economic development initiatives related to housing through First Nations owned institutions for loans and mortgages. Improvements to water and sanitation, and reduction of mold issues will enable health related concerns to decrease. Substandard housing issues should be addressed with immediate action by the governments working in collaboration with First Nations.