Affordability and Choice: Aging in Place

Imagine – you and your significant other are young, recently married and looking for a home to start your lives together. You search for a place that fits your life and find a new neighbourhood with a home that is just perfect! You move in, you paint the walls, you plant gardens. Maybe you raise children or get a dog (or both!). You get to know your neighbours over the years. There are neighbourhood birthday parties and barbeques, anniversaries and holidays. You join your community association, volunteer at the ice rink in the winter and play tennis with your friends in the summer. Years turn into decades. You redecorate, buy a new sofa, get a new roof. Some neighbours come and go, but you stay because you love your quiet tree lined street where people wave as you walk your dog, the nearby reservoir park where you take the grandkids for picnics, and of course the home you’ve filled with beautiful memories. There is no place you’d rather be. 

I recently read a post on a neighbourhood connection mobile app. A man we’ll call Bob was introducing himself, as many folks do when they join.

“I’m Bob. We have lived in Oakridge for 50 years but we may not be here for much longer as we are getting older and are looking for a one story condo. As there is not much selection in Oakridge and area, it means we likely will have to relocate. We have a dog and except for a few months have had one all the years that we’ve been here. Many people around here will know Sally as she is out twice a day walking Daisy winter or summer, rain or shine. We will be sad to leave as we have really enjoyed Oakridge.”

The challenge this couple is facing is prevalent across much of Ward 11. Many of our Ward’s residents are original or almost original owners of their homes. They moved to their neighbourhoods, more often than not raised families, made friends, participated in their communities and love where they live. However most of our neighbourhoods do not have the variety of housing choices that would allow these long-time residents to “right size” while remaining in their communities. Right sizing means finding a home that better serves physical, mobility, and financial needs as people move into their retirement years. As Bob noted, they will likely have to leave the area (and quite possibly the Ward) to find what they need. 

Imagine building a life, investing in a home and a community over decades only to have to leave it in your senior years because it wasn’t built for you to age in.

What does Calgary need?

Our neighbourhoods need to have more types of housing solutions to give residents opportunity to age in place, in the areas they know and love. A home is more than just a house - a home includes our friends, neighbours, grocery store clerks, bank tellers and pharmacists. As the theme song from “Cheers” says: “Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name.”

What is aging in place?

Aging in place is defined as "the ability to live in one's own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level.” It means that older adults and seniors can continue to live and participate in the communities they call home - aging in community.

Why does this matter?

A person’s home is the most important place in their life – it gives them a sense of familiarity, stability and comfort, which can have a huge impact on their quality of life. Many seniors who must leave their homes face mental health issues, which can accelerate cognitive and physical decline.

When people like Bob and Sally are forced, through a lack of housing choice, to move several communities away, they are also leaving friends, neighbours and social activities behind – a support system they have had for years. This can lead to social isolation, which can also have a detrimental effect on physical and mental health. While they may initially be able to drive back to their former neighbourhood, as they age, they may experience a decrease in their mobility, making it harder and harder to stay involved with their friends and activities.

What’s the solution?

You might be wondering how this is a City issue. The City controls everything from building permits to make existing homes more accessible, to planning policy that allows (or doesn’t) established areas to be infused with new, more diverse housing options like bungalow villas, townhomes, and condos/apartments. The City also controls policy around things that can help seniors financially stay in their homes, like laneway suites. Snow clearing, neighbourhood maintenance and transit - all of which enable seniors to safely get around - are the responsability of the City.  The City also has the ability to work with builders and investors to ensure new projects are built to appeal to multiple generations, meet specific accessibility needs, and in some cases, affordability requirements.

Here are 7 ways Calgary could help make our Ward 11 communities more accommodating for seniors to age in place and community:

  • Provide incentives or tax credits, or reduced permit fees to people who need to modify their homes to make them more accessible.
  • Property tax support programs for low income seniors
  • Re-invest in aging communities’ walkability, ensuring that sidewalks are in good condition, there are safe curb cuts, and street crossings.
  • Offer builders bonuses or incentives for new construction aimed at seniors or multigenerational residents.
  • Identify opportunities to locate and encourage services near where residents live. This might mean being more flexible on land use designations for certain commercial and mixed use areas in a community.
  • Ensure planning policies support the development of mixed use projects, including those with intergenerational amenities in key areas that will allow for seniors (and other residents) to live, access services and amenities on site. Eliminate barriers to these projects like parking minimums.
  • Mandate proper and timely snow clearing including intersection crossings, city owned sidewalks, and bus stops.
  • Make sure efficient, affordable, and reliable transit service is available to get seniors to key amenities like grocery stores, medical services, libraries, and recreation facilities.

In the past, planners did not consider how our communities would support their residents 40, 50, 60 years into the future – times were different then and it wasn’t a focus. But now we know better as a society. Some seniors want to stay in their homes for as long as possible - the City should be able to support that. Not all seniors will be able to remain in their homes or even want to for a variety of reasons. However they should at least have a reasonable opportunity and choice to remain in the area they’ve invested decades of their life into. Not addressing this issue is a disservice to a large portion of the city’s population: the generations who have helped grow this City and shape the neighbourhoods we know and love.